(ORDO NEWS) — According to a new study published in the Journal of Personality, a person’s level of intelligence has been closely linked to their psychological response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study found that smart people tended to be less satisfied with their lives during the pandemic than people with lower intelligence.
The new findings suggest that high intelligence may have a downside in today’s world and support a growing body of research known as the Savannah Happiness Theory.
The Savannah Theory of Happiness is a theory proposed by Prof. Norman P. Lee (Singapore Management University) and Dr. Jose K. Yong (Northumbria University) that argues that modern happiness is influenced not only by what individual circumstances mean in the current environment, but also and what they meant among our ancestors, on the African savanna more than 12,000 years ago,” explained study author Satoshi Kanazawa, reader in management at the London School of Economics.
“The theory also suggests that the impact of these kinds of situations faced by our ancestors on modern happiness is greater for people with lower levels of intelligence. We have tested and supported this theory in the past by showing, for example, that:
- Belonging to an ethnic minority makes a person less happy (because in the ancestral environment, contact with other people with a different appearance, language, culture and customs usually occurred in conditions of conflict, conquest, war, occupation and slavery)
- Population density reduces happiness (because our ancestors lived on vast savannahs with extremely low population density, and crowded conditions meant an impending disintegration of social order based on personal ties, lack of resources and conflict)
- Frequent contact with friends makes us happy (because our ancestors were physically vulnerable, social creatures in a hostile environment, dependent on friends and allies for support, and ostracism was tantamount to the death penalty)
- Sunlight makes us happy (because humans are diurnal, relying heavily on vision for navigation, and darkness was a danger to predators and attacks)
In all these cases, the impact of such consequences of current situations on happiness was significantly greater among less intelligent people.
“Then we asked ourselves what would happen if humans were placed in an entirely new situation from an evolutionary perspective that has no counterpart in ancestors and therefore has no implications for ancestors,” Kanazawa continued. “It just so happens that the whole world is now in such a situation – the situation of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Infectious diseases require a large population (at least half a million), a sedentary lifestyle and the presence of livestock, which was not among the ancestors.
Thus, infectious diseases, not to mention epidemics and global pandemics, did not exist in the environment of ancestors and, therefore, are completely new in terms of evolution. We wanted to find out what would happen to personal happiness in such a completely new evolutionary situation.”
For their new study, Kanazawa and colleagues analyzed two large, nationally representative datasets. They first analyzed data from 5,178 people participating in the National Child Development Study, an ongoing longitudinal study that has been tracking British respondents since their birth in 1958.
They then examined data from 4,223 people who participate in the British Cohort Study, another ongoing longitudinal study that has tracked respondents since their birth in 1970.
Participants in both studies took several intelligence tests as children and also regularly assessed their life satisfaction. It is important to note that the surveys also included a life satisfaction assessment in May 2020, during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The researchers found that smarter people tended to be more satisfied with life throughout their adult lives compared to less smart people. However, this trend has reversed in 2020, with people with a childhood IQ above 90 becoming less satisfied with their lives, and those with a childhood IQ below 90 becoming more satisfied.
“Because what we today call general intelligence originally developed to solve evolutionarily new adaptive tasks, smarter people are better able to understand evolutionarily new entities of the situation and their consequences,” Kanazawa told PsyPost.
“When such entities and situations are completely negative – like global pandemics; they have so many negative consequences and almost no positive ones – then smarter people are more likely to become less happy because they are better able to anticipate the negative consequences of such evolutionary new situations.
“Our analysis of two independent, prospectively longitudinal, large population samples from the United Kingdom confirmed our prediction.
Overall, and prior to COVID-19, smarter people have always been happier than less smart people throughout their lives, though not because they were smarter, but because they made more money, were more likely to be happily married, and were more healthy.
However, during COVID-19, smarter people became, for the first time in their lives, less happy than less smart people. In fact, while smarter people have become less happy since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, less smart people have become happier.”
The findings persisted even after the researchers controlled for gender, education, earnings, current marital status, and self-reported health. But the study, like any study, has some limitations. For example, it is not clear how well the results generalize to other populations.
“While our analyzes of two independent population samples showed identical results, they nonetheless belong to the same country (the United Kingdom),” Kanazawa said. “Our hypothesis needs to be tested in other countries and cultures.
However, elsewhere, in my 2020 paper in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, I argued that all evolutionary psychological hypotheses should be tested in developed countries, because they are associated with advanced human nature, and their inhabitants are able to more freely execute and follow the dictates of an advanced human nature with fewer social, legal and institutional constraints. Therefore, our hypothesis will need to be tested in countries other than the United Kingdom.”
A series of studies has provided empirical support for the savanna happiness theory. But the researchers noted that there are still many avenues for future research.
“Our hypothesis also predicts that smarter people are better able to anticipate and understand the consequences of evolutionarily novel positive situations that make us happy,” Kanazawa explained. “When faced with such evolutionarily new positive situations, more intelligent people should become happier than less intelligent people. This second consequence of the same hypothesis also needs to be tested.”
“Furthermore, our hypothesis predicts that the happiness of smarter people is more likely to suffer from evolutionarily novel negative situations, especially in the beginning, when most negative consequences are expected rather than actually experienced.
In fact, smarter people should be better able to cope with the negative consequences of such evolutionarily new situations than less smart people. Thus, the lack of happiness of smarter people should decrease as the evolutionarily new situation continues. This conclusion will also need to be verified.
Kanazawa said the new results also highlight that higher intelligence does not always have a positive impact on a person’s life.
“Following the arguments and evidence I presented in my 2012 book, The Intelligence Paradox: Why Smart Choices Are Not Always Smart, I hope our latest paper, forthcoming in the Journal of Personality, will further demonstrate that general intelligence is not universally desirable quality and smarter people are not always better than less smart people,” he said.
“Often smarter people are worse off than less smart people. Intelligence is not a measure of human dignity, and we must stop considering it as such.
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