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High levels of anxiety may indicate greater intelligence

16 April 2012

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

People who are natural worriers are likely to be highly intelligent, according to a recent study.

Medical researchers found that high intelligence and levels of worry both correlate with brain activity, as measured by the depletion of the nutrient choline in the subcortical white matter of the brain. This suggests that intelligence may have co-evolved with worry in humans.

“One region of the brain – the white matter – that has contributed to the evolutionary success of humans may also be implicated in anxiety disorders,” Jeremy Coplan et al said in a research paper.

“This suggests that what we have labeled as maladaptive – pathological anxiety – co-evolved with the attribute that is viewed as most adaptive, human intelligence.”

Patients with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) reported significantly more worry and exhibited higher IQ scores. The relationship between anxiety and intelligence was positive in patients with GAD, but inverse in healthy volunteers.

“While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be,” noted Coplan.

“In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances’, and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”

The full results of the study are published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience.

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