If you worry a lot, fear not—your anxiety just might be a sign of high intelligence. The idea has been around for a while: The adage that ignorance is bliss suggests the reverse, that knowledge involves anguish. Now it’s starting to get some scientific validation.
The perception that worrywarts are smart is bolstered by a peculiar 2012 experiment by psychologists Tsachi Ein-Dor and Orgad Tal, from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. The experiment inflicted seemingly incidental bursts of stress on 80 students.
The students in the study were told their role was to assess artwork presented by a software program—but this was just a cover story. While doing so, participants “accidentally” activated a supposedly virulent computer virus. (This, of course, happened automatically, regardless of the participants’ behavior.) Next, they were urged by the trained actress running the show to seek technical support urgently.
According to Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, the smarter you are, the more chilled you are. “There are exceptions, obviously, but the basic finding is sound. One explanation for the negative correlation is pretty straightforward: When people are anxious, they don’t think very clearly,” Epstein told me.
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