The Intelligent Loner

Did you know that extremely intelligent people would rather be alone?

While psychologists have a pretty good idea of what typically makes humans happy, they have found that extremely smart people long for something a bit different.

In a paper published in the British Journal of Psychology, researchers Norman Li and Satoshi Kanazawa report that highly intelligent people actually experience less life satisfaction when they socialize with people more frequently. These intelligent people are happier when left alone.

Researchers came to this conclusion by surveying responses of 15,197 people between the ages of 18 and 28. Their data was a part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey that measures life satisfaction, intelligence, and health. Analysis of this data shows that being around dense crowds of people typically leads to unhappiness, while socializing with friends typically leads to happiness, unless the person is highly intelligent.

The authors of this study explain these findings with the “savanna theory of happiness”. This theory is the idea that life satisfaction is not only determined by what is happening in the present but also influenced by how our ancestors may have reacted to certain events. Evolutionary psychology argues that the human brain has been designed for and adapted to the conditions of an ancestral environment. Because of this, researchers believe that our brains have trouble comprehending and dealing with situations that are unique to the present.

Two factors that differ the most between ancient and modern life are population density and how frequently humans socialize with friends. Today, we spend a lot more time around lots of people and a lot less time around actual friends. Researchers believe that highly intelligent people are less effected by the savanna theory.

This means that in general, highly intelligent individuals are more likely to have ‘unnatural’ preferences and values that our ancestors may not have had. It is natural for the human species to seek and desire friendship, yet as a result, more intelligent individuals are likely to not feel the need to seek out such companionship.

The survey also revealed that smarter people were less likely to feel that they benefited from friendships, but they actually socialized more than less intelligent people.

Intelligence is believed to have evolved as a psychological mechanism to issues. For our ancestors, this meant that frequent contact with friends and allies was a necessity that allowed them to survive. Yet, a highly intelligent person would not need such companionship because they would be more likely to solve problems on their own without needing another person’s help. This diminishes the importance of friendships.

Since highly intelligent people do not always prefer what their ancestors would have wanted, they are more comfortable in urban settings. Historically, people tended to live comfortably in groups of around 150. This is the typical size of a Neolithic village. Densely packed urban centers are thought to bring about the feeling of isolation and depression because they do not foster close relationships. Yet a busy place normally has less of a negative effect on people who are very intelligent.

This is not to say that you are unintelligent if you enjoy spending time with friends. It just means that that one really smart person you know may not actually be a sad loner, they are probably like that because that is what makes them happy and comfortable