This paper explores several articles that report on results from research conducted on highly intelligent individuals and their relationship to mental impairments. Although the articles may vary in their reasoning, they each draw to similar conclusions regarding the correlation between these. Ruth Karpinski et al. suggests that highly intelligent individuals tend to have “intellectual overexcitabilities” and hyper-reactivity of the central nervous system, which can aid in their creative and artistic capacities and can also lead to depression and poor mental health. On the other hand, Nicholas Pediaditakis suggests temperament to be of great significance when considering the relationship between intelligence and psychological disorders. He asserts that highly intelligent individuals share a similar skewed temperament with those who are vulnerable to psychological disorders and it is due to their behavioral traits that a premorbid personality develops. Laura Summerfeldt and Stella Mavroveli both analyze the concept of emotional intelligence as it relates to social anxiety, noting that there exists an association between low emotional intelligence and anxiety–particularly in the inter- and intrapersonal domains. As the determination of whether there exists a concrete relationship between intelligence and mental illness remains fairly elusive, this paper seeks to analyze the effects of intelligence as it concerns mental health.
Intelligence and Psychological Disorders
Intelligence is defined by the capacity to self-discover knowledge and patterns from a world filled with uncertainties and infinite possibilities. It is a multifaceted and multi-layered construct that has inspired various forms of literatures concerning its definition, measurement, and implications. An individual who is considered to be “highly” intelligent has a remarkable capacity to perceive and conceptualize these vast uncertainties, possibilities, and problems. Possessing a rather high intelligence is often praised for being predictive of positive life outcomes (including success in education and levels of income), and is a positive indicator of high system integrity. However, little is ever considered regarding the psychological challenges experienced among individuals of this population. Interestingly, the eccentric tendencies of genius are oftentimes associated with mental illness. There exists a host of writers, artists, and other rather remarkable individuals throughout history who have been plagued by mental disorders. As such, intelligence can serve as either a catalyst for empowerment and self-actualization, or it can be a predictor of dysregulation and painstaking debilitation.
Ruth Karpinski et al.’s “High Intelligence: A Risk Factor for Psychological and Physiological Overexcitabilities” evaluates the literature and mechanisms that are possibly rooted in the relationship between high intelligence and several psychological disorders–particularly depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and ADHD. The researchers compared data gathered from nearly four-thousand individuals who scored in the top 2% of intelligence tests to those from national surveys in order to analyze the pervasiveness of various disorders in those characterized by elevated intelligence (as compared to the average population). Essentially, the results illustrated that highly intelligent people are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, 80% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, and 83% more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety. The article emphasizes that highly intelligent individuals generally have tendencies for “intellectual overexcitabilities” and hyper-reactivity of the central nervous system, which may lend heightened cognizance to those with high IQ–tending to their creative and artistic capacities. One aspect of highly intelligent individuals is that they are recognized for having a “broader and deeper capacity to comprehend their surroundings” (Karpinski et al.). However, this hyper-reactivity can also lead to deepening depressive states and compromised mental health.
Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski first coined the term “overexcitability”, the English translation of the Polish word “nadpobudliwosc”, meaning “superstimulatability”. He discovered that hyper-reactions and intensities occur with greater prevalence and of greater strength in the intellectually gifted compared to those with a normal or lower intelligence quotient (IQ). According to Dabrowski’s observations, gifted individuals have a tendency to show signs of nervousness, a condition which was observed to be relatively absent in the intellectually delayed. These types of individuals demonstrate a uniquely heightened way of experiencing and responding to their environment, particularly within five domains: psychomotor, sensory, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional. These overexcitabilities are found to be associated with personality development and observed symptoms of slight neuroses among them, such as depression and anxiety. The intense emotional responses that these individuals have to their environments can lead to increased rumination and worry–both of which are associated with higher cognitive ability. Rumination, a deep or considered thought about something, predicts the chronicity of depressive disorders and anxiety symptoms. A highly ruminative cognitive form demonstrates itself to be associated with increased vulnerability to major depression and contributes to symptom severity. On the other hand, worry is the proposed cognitive process that underlies general anxiety disorders and, as is the case with rumination, those who worry with more chronicity and severity score higher on intelligence tests. In particular, verbal intelligence happens to be a positive predictor of worry and rumination (in addition to being predictive of the severity of both processes).
In “The Association Between Major Mental Disorders and Geniuses”, Dr. Nicholas Pediaditakis recognizes temperament as a significant role when considering the relationship between intelligence and mental health. According to Pediaditakis, temperament is defined as “the particular inborn behavior propensities for each individual” which “represents the final brain structural reality” (Pediaditakis). It behaves as not only an unfinished platform upon which personality is shaped, but also guides the significance of environmental influences that are eventually embedded in that particular platform. Along with learned attitudes and ethos, both constitute the final personality of an individual. The components of temperament seemingly originate from two areas of humans’ evolutionary past and are presented in two distinct groups: the first originates from the evolutionary pressures on the individual (i.e. selfishness, inner directness, aloofness, and self-serving calculations) and the second originates from that on the social aspects of human experiences (i.e. sociability, connectedness, empathy, altruism, mutuality, cooperation, and loyalty). Together, these amalgamated clusters constitute human nature.
In the population of highly intelligent individuals, there exists a major variation from the norm of inborn temperament, lying beyond the normally occurring variability. These individuals share a rather unbalanced temperament with those who are most vulnerable to major psychological disorders. When and if a major disorder develops, the individual’s preexisting skewed traits manifest as premorbid personality (traits manifested as a result of illness or injury). Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are three conditions which are most prevalent in vulnerable individuals. To varying degrees, these individuals are usually perceived to be characteristically less social, as well more self-absorbed and often aloof. They may exhibit remarkable “learned” affability and civility, however, they are inner-directed, autonomous, and deficient in empathy and connectedness on multiple levels. Individuals with this temperament often behave oddly and are perceived as fickle, idiosyncratic, peculiar, or strange. They are often dysphoric and tend to feel an inner void and a deep-seated sense of enduring loneliness. As assumed, this can progress to episodes of precipitous depression as these individuals are weighted by doubts and mood oscillations, and are often held captive by their compulsive rituals.
In “Social Anxiety, Emotional Intelligence, and Interpersonal Adjustment”, Laura Summerfeldt et al. examines the relationship between social anxiety and emotional intelligence (EI), and their shared impact upon interpersonal adjustment, through use of structural equation modeling with self-report data from a large nonclinical sample of nearly three-thousand individuals. The study found that EI was highly related to social interaction anxiety but not performance anxiety. A model permitting these three predictors to intercorrelate indicated that the EI factor was the dominant predictor of interpersonal adjustment–substantially reducing the unique contribution made by interaction anxiety. As such, this pattern reflected the principal contributions made to interaction anxiety by the interpersonal and particularly intrapersonal domains of EI.
As defined, emotional intelligence is the ability to “monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (Summerfeldt et al. 57). The general concept of EI is partly rooted in Thorndike’s concept of “social intelligence” and Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences–particularly “intrapersonal” and “interpersonal” intelligence. These intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies are central to contemporary conceptualizations of EI. The association between social anxiety and various indices of impaired interpersonal functioning is very well demonstrated throughout studies. Individuals with clinical levels of social anxiety are likely to live alone, remain single, and to report impaired relationships with family and peers. On the other hand, in nonclinical populations, social anxiety and its variants have been linked with loneliness, lessened social support, and quality of relationships. This significant differentiation may be best represented by the relative contribution of two distinct social anxiety constructs: fears solely about activities where one might be observed or scrutinized by others and fears about interpersonal interactions.
There exist several mechanisms that may underlie the connection between social anxiety and impaired social functioning–two of which can be considered as problems with interpersonal competencies. Social skill deficits and distorted cognitive appraisals of the self and social interactions (leading to the inaccuracy of judgement both of one’s own and others’ social behaviors) are a result of these. Despite fundamental differences, these two mechanisms may have a comparable impact on functioning, possibly leading to disruptive levels of situational distress, the appearance of social ineptness, and negative evaluation by others. Intrapersonal variables such as increased self-focus, anxiety over one’s potential emotional responses, and inaccurate appraisals of one’s emotional displays figure prominently in cognitive appraisal models of social anxiety. As such, social anxiety is simply a trait with negative inter- and intrapersonal consequences.
In “Trait Emotional Intelligence, Psychological Well-Being and Peer-Rated Social Competence in Adolescence”, Stella Mavroveli furthers this discussion of the relationship between low trait EI and social anxiety. She and other researchers studied the correlation between EI and four socioemotional criteria on a sample of Dutch adolescents. They found that trait EI was positively associated with adaptive coping methods and negatively associated with depressive thoughts and somatic complaints. Adolescents who perceived themselves as being in-tune with their emotions and able to regulate them reported fewer signs of depression and physical pain. In other words, high trait EI adolescents were seemingly less vulnerable to psychological disorders compared to their low trait EI peers. Trait EI bears on strategies which individuals employ to cope with everyday problems. The study demonstrates that high trait EI individuals have an advantage in terms of effective coping strategies. The researchers concluded that the “well-being” component of trait EI may be especially relevant in the adjustment process, since positive emotions are conducive to the development of those physical, intellectual, and social resources necessary for successful coping.
The study notes that a positive association was found between trait EI and peer-rated social competence–particularly prosocial behavior. This relationship stemmed largely from a positive correlation with nominations for being cooperative, suggesting that high trait EI adolescents possess and exhibit social skills that are readily detected by their peers. It appears that an individual’s trait emotional self-efficacy is related to their social skills (as perceived by others who know them). This indicates that trait EI self-perceptions are accurate. High trait EI adolescents also seem to be more likely to enjoy the fulfillment of personal relationships during a period that is crucial for personal development. Certainly, social status has consistently emerged as a predictor of internalized disorders, whereas peer rejection, unpopularity, and social withdrawal are general causes of depression and isolated loneliness.
The capacity to perceive and internalize the vast uncertainties and possibilities of the world potentiates the onset of manifestation of various psychological challenges. As noted, Ruth Karpinski et al. suggests that individuals with high intelligence have tendencies for intellectual overexcitabilities and hyper-reactivity, which – while aiding in creative capacities – can lead to depression and poor mental health. Their unique heightened way of experiencing the world can often lead to increased rumination and worry–undoubtedly increasing vulnerability to major depressive disorders and symptom severity. On the other hand, Dr. Nicholas Pediaditakis recognizes temperament as a significant role when considering the relationship between intelligence and mental health; that there exists a major variation from the norm of inborn temperament in the population of highly intelligent individual. These individuals, as Pediatakis notes, share a rather skewed temperament with those who are most vulnerable to major psychological disorders–and if a major disorder is to develop the individual’s preexisting skewed traits manifest as premorbid personality. Although these studies demonstrate a strong correlation between higher levels of intelligence and mental illness, there exists an association between low emotional intelligence and anxiety–particularly in the inter- and intrapersonal domains. Researchers Laura Summerfeldt and Stella Mavroveli both analyze the concept of emotional intelligence as it relates to social anxiety, noting that social skill deficits and distorted cognitive appraisals of the self and social interactions are a result of issues involving interpersonal competencies. Ultimately, the relationship between intelligence and emotional functioning largely remains unchartered territory.
Kapinski, Ruth. “High Intelligence: A Risk Factor for Psychological and Physiological Overexcitabilities.” NeuroImage, Academic Press, 8 Oct. 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289616303324
Mavroveli, Stella. Trait Emotional Intelligence, Psychological Well-Being and Peer-Rated Social Competence in Adolescence. s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/3461334/TEIQue_Adolescents_NL.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1550820273&Signature=fVvzssuITwBGnLZzOmRLDXq6kp4%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DTrait_emotional_intelligence_psychologic.pdf.
Summerfeldt, Laura J., et al. “Social Anxiety, Emotional Intelligence, and Interpersonal Adjustment.” SpringerLink, Springer, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10862-006-4542-1.
Pediatakis, Nicholas. “The Association Between Major Mental Disorders and Geniuses.” Https://Www.psychiatrictimes.com/Schizophrenia/Association-between-Major-Mental-Disorders-and-Geniuses/Page/0/1.
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