Too Smart For Your Own Good: 6 Downsides of Being Highly Intelligent

In the classic novel Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky writes, “It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”

The quote might seem a bit cryptic, but those who are highly intelligent understand exactly what the author means.

Intelligence, it seems, does have its downsides, and they are rather surprising.

Over 100 responses to a Quora inquiry last year culminated in 6 consistent problems of people with extremely high intelligence; six ways, that is, where highly intelligent people are actually too smart for their own good.

1) You know how much you don’t know.

Highly intelligent people have an appreciation of their own understanding -and lack thereof- that their less-intelligent counterparts do not. They know that they will never know everything, about everything, and they know this simply because they exercise their capacity for understanding. People who don’t tend to be happier with what they do know. It’s another way of saying “ignorance is bliss”: if you can’t reason what you don’t know it’s not going to bother you that you don’t know it.

Highly intelligent people can understand that they don’t, and never will, know everything about everything or really, everything about anything. This can be immensely frustrating to those who fall prey to it. A widely-cited study by Justin Kruger and David Dunning extracts the truth behind this phenomenon.

2) Highly intelligent people tend to overthink.

The problem with overthinking is tied closely to the problem of knowing you’ll never know everything. Overthinking is a product of rumination and worrying, and a dominant characteristic of highly intelligent people. Being overly thoughtful, analytical and concerned with certain subject matter leads to overthinking, which is frustrating and anxiety-inducing.

This study conducted in 2015 found an explicit link between overthinking and verbal intelligence.

3) Highly intelligent people tend to correct others in casual conversation.

Often in conversation that isn’t meant to be analyzed for accuracy, highly intelligent people find themselves at a bit of a socially awkward situation. People don’t like to be corrected in general, and highly intelligent people come across as fussy or even offensive in trying to clarify statements during casual conversation. This site highlights some of the ways this happens in social situations.

4) They don’t necessarily develop perseverance.

People who are extremely intelligent often don’t have to work as hard as others do in order to accomplish the same goals. While this might seem like yet another bonus for being super-smart, it leads to the development of a poor work ethic. This means that when challenges do arise for the intellectually gifted, they don’t know how to really throw a concentrated effort at successfully overcoming them.

A 2004 study showed the correlation between conscientiousness -in other words, how hard you’re willing to work- and intelligence is in fact a negative one.

5) Performance pressure and panic.

Similarly to #4, high intelligence marks you as  top performer, so  others anticipate that you will always be achieving at a high level. This creates a kind of double-edged sword for the highly intelligent: you feel that you must always perform at the highest possible level, which creates an intense amount of stress, and when you don’t, you feel that you let others down who anticipate your constant success and achievement. Additionally, you feel panicked about not always performing at the highest level, which creates even more stress. Psychology Today discusses this as the “burden of potential” in this excerpt.

6) Talking about instead of actually expressing your feelings.

Highly intelligent people are often extremely good at honing in on and articulating how they are feeling…to their detriment. Instead of actually expressing how they feel, highly intelligent people are more likely to describe it in words. As one respondent to the Quora inquiry -which was, in fact, “When does intelligence become a curse?”- stated, “Less articulate people tend to vent through physicality. They yell, punch, kick, run, scream, sob, dance, jump for joy… I explain. And when I’m done explaining, everything I’ve explained is still stuck inside me, only now it has a label on it.”

Some research indicates that this is actually true, at least in the workplace. The studies show that an increased level of emotional intelligence makes up for a decreased level of cognitive function.It appears that people who are incredibly intelligent don’t have to rely on emotional skills as much, at least not at work.

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