Do Smarter People Need Fewer Friends?

Written by Bernard Marr

Research published in the British Journal of Psychology suggests that smarter people may be happiest with fewer friends.

The study looked at a large national survey that asked people to self-report on their own happiness levels, and looked to draw some general conclusions about what makes a happy, fulfilling life from the answers.

What they found has been referred to as “Paleo happiness.”

Evolutionary psychologists Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Norman Li of Singapore Management University theorize that their findings show that what made us happy back in our prehistoric days will continue to make us happy today.

The first major finding of the study is known as the “urban-rural happiness gradient” and shows that people who live in densely populated, urban areas tend to be less happy than people who live in more sparsely populated, rural areas.  The second finding showed that people who spend more time with their friends are happier.

Kanazawa and Li suggest this is because we evolved to live in small groups of perhaps 150 individuals. Within those groups, we had to rely on close friendships and relationships for survival, and so our brains are wired to be happiest in those situations.

Except, it seems, for people with above average IQs.

Individuals with high IQs were more than twice as likely to be happy in urban environments, and much less likely to be happy when they spend a lot of time with friends.

One expert suggests that this makes sense, because people with high IQs are frequently engaged in pursuing some other long term objective — like writing a novel, researching to cure cancer, or supporting human rights.

But Kanazawa and Li suggest that the reason people with high IQs find happiness in ways opposite to the rest of us is because they are further along on the evolutionary spectrum, and therefore no longer need the same conditions for happiness as our ancient ancestors.  

Whereas our Paleolithic ancestors needed to rely on a small group of close relationships for survival, modern day humans are evolving to be able to tackle modern life in new ways.

"More intelligent individuals, who possess higher levels of general intelligence and thus greater ability to solve evolutionarily novel problems, may face less difficulty in comprehending and dealing with evolutionarily novel entities and situations," the researchers write.

Does this mean everyone who loves living in the city is smart and those who prefer rural life are less smart?  Hardly.  But does it, perhaps, explain the stereotype of the nerdy geek without many friends? Possibly, because, at least according to this study, it seems the nerds and geeks of the world are just as happy — perhaps happier — not spending too much time socializing with friends.

Do you agree with the findings of this study? Do you think intelligence plays a role in overall happiness, or is ignorance truly bliss? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.