How do you define intelligence? We all know the book-smart individual who can’t find his way across the street, as well as the street-smart manipulator who failed high school but deftly navigates through life. There is academic intelligence, further split into mathematical/logical intelligence and linguistic intelligence. Then there is emotional intelligence, which helps establish a good understanding of self (intrapersonal intelligence) and interactions with others (interpersonal intelligence). There is even musical intelligence, spatial intelligence, body intelligence, and naturalistic intelligence. So, when defining the “smartest,” as is true in so many arenas, context is key.
Recent studies have shown that night owls are more intelligent than early risers, people who swear are more intelligent than those who don’t, messy people are more intelligent than neatniks (possibly related side note, another study disproved a previous myth that associated OCD with superior intelligence), and daydreaming is a sign of intelligence.
Specifically, evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanosawa found that more intelligent children (based on IQ) grew up to be nocturnal adults, and argues that higher intelligence in night owls makes sense because they choose to go against the natural human circadian rhythm and so are doing something “evolutionarily novel.”
The journal “Language Sciences” (Nov 2015) featured a study which indicated that swearing shows more verbal fluency, rather than the limited vocabulary it was originally thought to represent. Those who cursed were described as “breaking convention to use a more accurate word.”
A 2013 University of Minnesota study found neater people were healthier, more generous, and more conventional, but messier folk were more creative, which they equated with higher intelligence.
And most recently, Science Daily (October 2017) reported a study from the Georgia Institute of Technology that found daydreaming during meetings may be a sign that you are really smart and creative, not that you are unfocused or inattentive. So next time someone criticizes you for not paying attention in the office conference room, you can tell them your brain is just working too efficiently. Drop a quote from Eric Schumacher, the Georgia Tech associate psychology professor who co-authored the study, “People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.” That should go over well.
I’m suspicious. Who exactly commissions these studies? I’m guessing it is a researcher that is trying to get the last word in a long-standing argument with a spouse or family member. One too many Thanksgiving dinners debating the unfair balance of cleanup activities – “But the mess is critical to the fostering of my intelligence!” Or maybe it’s the work of a graduate student trying to prove to a professor that they should not be penalized for sleeping in, or subordinates who wants to show the boss why their doodles merit a promotion.
I haven’t delved deep into these studies to check their methods and validity, but the conclusions seem to make assumptions that associate higher intelligence with going against the grain or taking a more creative path, even though it isn’t clear that the data specifically supports that. For example, the “messy” study may have indicated that messy people are more creative, but equating more creativity with higher intelligence was an assumption. Same with challenging the natural circadian rhythm. That could be insomnia, or working the night shift. And showing creativity by breaking convention through swearing, hmmmm.
Interestingly, another recent study conducted at the University of Texas in Austin indicated that American adults are less likely than adults from other populations to associate creativity rather than conformity with intelligence in children. This is even truer for college-educated American adults. So when college professors are conducting studies, one could wonder is there some internal bias to their conclusions?
I’m not arguing with them. According to these studies, I am a top-tier genius. Though my family finds that hard to believe when they seen me standing at the top of the stairs wondering what I went up for, or frantically looking for my phone while I am talking on it.
Anyway, to my friends, boss, and co-workers, I swear I recently saw an article stating that people who are late all the time are also more intelligent, though I can’t find it now in this mess, especially since I’ve been up all night.
Rebecca Martorella LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.