Despite the lasting image of paranoid evil geniuses in pop cultural lore, new research shows that trust actually comes easier to intelligent people.
So finds a new study out of Oxford University, which analyzed survey data from the United States and found that the survey's measurements of intelligence correlated with levels of general trust--that is, trust in people at large rather than those individuals they already have a relationship with.
The intelligence measurements included a vocabulary test and scores from the surveyors indicating how well the subject understood the survey questions.
Those who scored best on the vocabulary test were 34 percent more likely to express general trust than those who scored worst. And those who were marked as most intelligent in terms of understanding questions were 11 percent more likely to trust than those who were marked poorly.
What's more, the study also coalesced with previous research showing a positive correlation between general trust and health and happiness.
And when the study controlled for intelligence, those correlations still stood strong--indicating that the association between trust and health cannot be explained simply through any correlations between health and intelligence or intelligence and trust.
So, while intelligent people might be more likely to trust, generally trusting people of any kind--regardless of their intelligence--stand to be happier and healthier than the non-trusting.
Like all academic studies, this one has its caveats. While researchers say the vocabulary test they used to measure intelligence works as well as some IQ tests, its measurements of intelligence could be called crude, or at least incomplete.
And the researchers acknowledge that the study probably doesn't mean intelligent people innately trust better. Instead, it likely indicates something about who intelligent people interact with, and how they interact with them. The authors write:
One explanation is that intelligent individuals are better at evaluating others’ trustworthiness, meaning that they tend to select into relationships with people who are unlikely to betray their trust. Another possible explanation is that...they may be better at identifying when any particular person would be likely to act untrustworthily, based on the characteristics of the prospective interaction (e.g., material payoffs, discount rates). Alternatively, it may simply be that intelligent individuals have a greater chance of interacting with people who are materially better-off, and who therefore have less to gain from acting untrustworthily.