How fine is the line between genius and insanity? It turns out that highly intelligent people are prone to mental illness due to a unique characteristic – overexcitability.
The saying about highly intelligent people that “there’s a fine line between genius and insanity” may prove to be just the right definition for people with high IQ. In fact, many studies have found that high intelligence comes with the increased risk of mental illness.
From the increased prevalence of intelligent socially anxious people to the well-known bipolar geniuses like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Lord Byron, and many more, the connection between some kind of disorder and high IQ seems almost inevitable.
A new research confirms that the connection between mental illness and high intelligence is not only more prevalent but that it’s something that seems almost inevitable due to a characteristic people with high IQ possess: overexcitability.
The research team surveyed 3,715 American MENSA members with an IQ score greater than 130 to find out if the prevalence of mental illnesses among these people was similar to that of the general US population.
They asked the participants to report whether they were suffering or suspected that they were suffering from any mental illness diagnoses, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), mood and anxiety disorders, as well as physiological diseases such as asthma or food allergies.
The results showed a significant increase in the prevalence of mental illnesses among the MENSA members compared to that of the general population. For example, in the case of anxiety disorders, the 10,9% figure of the general population diagnosed with anxiety disorders rose to 20% among the members of the Mensa community.
The researchers attribute the larger prevalence of mental illnesses among people with higher IQ to their “broader and deeper capacity to comprehend their surroundings.” As the authors explain, highly intelligent people possess “unique intensities and overexcitabilities which can be at once remarkable and disabling.”
This heightened awareness is both very powerful for the creative mind and very dangerous in the potential of deep depression. As the authors explain, people with such overexcitable cognitive ability are bound to have a hyper-reactive central nervous system, and this can lead to “various other psychological and physiological consequences.”
Which is more, the authors have pointed to a link between an increase in allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases among highly intelligent people, compared to the general population and they attribute these same health conditions to the both psychologically and physically overexcitable nature of people with high IQ.