Offer pretty much anyone in the world a pill that would instantly improve IQ, and most people would happily gobble it down. That's why the internet is full of articles and courses on how to get smarter, learn faster, and emulate geniuses.
But while being smarter sounds appealing, actually living everyday life as an extremely intelligent person can throw up some very real, but rarely acknowledged, challenges.
Not sure you believe me? Then take it from Stanford grad and successful entrepreneur Ramit Sethi. Having studied and worked side by side with some brilliant folks, he's noticed a few recurring patterns when it comes to the downsides of extreme intelligence. He outlined five in a blog post.
- They overintellectualize things. "Since [smart people] can see lots of angles -- in fact, they've been rewarded for seeing multiple angles -- they often can't accept what's in front of them," cautions Sethi. "This can be ideal when they're considering complex strategies or life decisions," he allows, but when shutting up and taking action is what is required, smart people can struggle.
They're perfectionists. Perfectionism is "the smart person's version of Fear of Failure," according to Sethi.
They're afraid of looking stupid. This can drive some perverse behavior in kids labeled smart. After school is over the same fear can prevent clever adults from asking questions or learning something new, both of which might reveal their ignorance.
They forget what it's like to be a beginner. "As you get more and more advanced in your career (or relationship or business or pretty much anything), it becomes harder and harder to relate to true beginners," Sethi warns.
They want to skip the basics. Well, not if they're Elon Musk-level smart, but your garden-variety intelligent person does, at least in Sethi's experience. "Too many people think they're too advanced to perfect the fundamentals," he writes.
But if you want confirmation that being smart isn't all upside, you don't have to rely on personal observations like Sethi's. There is also plenty of hard science showing that while big brains create wonderful things for the world, they also often create real struggles for those in possession of them.
Smart people are more often alone.
A fascinating recent study found that compared with the less gifted, smart people tend to spend more time alone. Why? "Those with more intelligence and the capacity to use it ... are less likely to spend so much time socializing because they are focused on some other longer-term objective," Carol Graham, a Brookings Institution researcher who studies the economics of happiness, explained to the Washington Post.
There's a silver lining for the exceptionally smart, however. While science suggests that they're likely to be less socially connected than others, it also suggests that this lack of human contact will impact their happiness less. So while you're more likely to be a loner if you're highly intelligent, that lifestyle is less likely to make you lonely -- presumably because you're too busy building a world-changing business or curing disease to be much bothered about missing bowling night.
They know how much they don't know.
Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? If you don't know the term, you definitely have experienced the principle. This psychological rule states that it's the most incompetent who are the most confident, while the most intelligent doubt their own abilities. Why? In short, dumb people are too dumb to understand exactly how dumb they are. Smart people are clever enough to know how much they don't know.
In real life this means it's actually the brightest who are often the most tormented by doubt and they're also the most likely to suffer from imposter syndrome.
They're more likely to fall prey to stereotypes.
We tend to think of those who fall prey to bias and stereotypes as, well, kind of dumb. But one recent study, at least, suggested the opposite. A team of researchers found that because smart people are better at quickly picking up subtle patterns, they're also more likely to pair certain characteristics with certain groups based on flimsy evidence.
Or, as the Atlantic put it in its write-up of the study's findings, "these depressing results suggest there's a downside to being smart--it makes you risk reading too much into a situation and drawing inappropriate conclusions."
They're more easily distracted.
If you find it hard to stay on task amid the hubbub off your office, I have good news for you -- that just might be a sign of your high intelligence and above-average creativity. "More intelligent people may be more distractible at work because they have trouble prioritizing all of the great ideas they're always coming up with, according to a new study," Money said, reporting on one 2016 survey of more than 10,000 workers.
Another recent study out of Northwestern University linked creative accomplishment with a reduced ability to ignore distractions. Or to use the researchers' more technical language: "Real-world creative achievement was associated with leaky sensory processing -- or a reduced ability to screen or inhibit stimuli from conscious awareness."
They're weighed down by expectations.
Having a great brain is wonderful, but having to deal with everyone else's expectations of the marvelous things you'll do with that brain? Maybe not so much. One study that tracked 1,500 super smart kids (their IQs tested at 140 or more) for decades found that many struggled to live up to their own and others' hopes for their lives.
When the study participants were in their 80s, researchers asked them to look back on their lives. "Rather than basking in their successes, many reported that they had been plagued by the sense that they had somehow failed to live up to their youthful expectations," reports the BBC. "That sense of burden -- particularly when combined with others' expectations -- is a recurring motif for many other gifted children."
Are their any other downsides to being super smart you'd add to this list?