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April 13, 2012
Researchers Say People With High Levels of Worry and Anxiety Have Higher IQs


Worry warts may have something to talk about at the water cooler now. To be human is to worry -- about finances, your children's health, work, even whether you remembered to unplug the iron when you go on vacation. According to scientists at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, worrying may have evolved along with intelligence as a beneficial trait according to their research.


But if you find that worry seems to consume your life, that you barely finish ruminating about one thing before something else begins to trouble you, even to the point of feeling physically ill, researchers like to label this very normal and basic part of life as an illness called General Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

While it may be true that some people are excessive worriers, it is not by any means a condition that should require medication for the majority of the population. We're now finding out that worry has its role in the human body and may demonstrate some higher levels of thought processing.

Jeremy Coplan, MD, professor of psychiatry at SUNY Downstate, and colleagues found that high intelligence and worry both correlate with brain activity measured by the depletion of the nutrient choline. According to the researchers, this suggests that intelligence may have co-evolved with worry in humans.

"While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be," said Dr. Coplan. "In essence, worry may make people 'take no chances,' and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species."

In this study of anxiety and intelligence, patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were compared with healthy volunteers to assess the relationship among intelligence quotient (IQ), worry, and subcortical white matter metabolism of choline. In a control group of normal volunteers, high IQ was associated with a lower degree of worry, but in those diagnosed with GAD, high IQ was associated with a greater degree of worry. The correlation between IQ and worry was significant in both the GAD group and the healthy control group. However, in the former, the correlation was positive and in the latter, the correlation was negative. Eighteen healthy volunteers (eight males and 10 females) and 26 patients with GAD (12 males and 14 females) served as subjects.

Previous studies have indicated that excessive worry tends to exist both in people with higher intelligence and lower intelligence, and less so in people of moderate intelligence. It has been hypothesized that people with lower intelligence suffer more anxiety because they achieve less success in life.

The results of their study, "The Relationship between Intelligence and Anxiety: An Association with Subcortical White Matter Metabolism," was published in a recent edition of Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, and can be read at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3269637/pdf/fnevo-03-00008.pdf.

The study was selected and evaluated by a member of the Faculty of 1000 (F1000), placing it in their library of the top 2% of published articles in biology and medicine.

If you're diagnosed with GAD, you may not necessarily need to be medicated and this may be contrary to your doctor's advice. What is more important is finding your place of peace and releasing stress whenever possible. Whether your outlet is exercise, socializing, or just listening to music, spend the time listening to what your body is telling you. Eventually you'll wonder why you worried at all.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.


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