Are you too smart?  

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The Termites

After combing schools for the creme de la creme, Lewis selected 1,500 pupils with an IQ of 140 or more of which 80 of them had IQs above 170. Together, they became known as the “Termites”.

The Terman Study is one of the most famous longitudinal studies ever performed - and so far, the longest. Professor Lewis Terman studied gifted children. The study began in 1921 and was originally slated to last for 10 years. However, the study was so interesting and the collected data was so good that the study continued through the lifetime of the subjects. The last big data collection was in 1992, however researchers continued to follow all subjects until they died.

A picture of a smart termite kid

As you might expect, many of the Termites did become rich and famous. By the time his series aired on CBS, the Termites’ average salary was twice that of the average white-collar job. But not all in the group met Terman’s expectations. There were many who pursued more “humble” professions such as police officers, seafarers and typists amongst the few. For this reason, Terman concluded that “intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated”. Nor did their smarts bestow personal happiness.

Over the course of their lives, levels of divorce, alcoholism and suicide were about the same as the national average.

The moral of their story: intelligence did not equate to a better life. At best, a great intellect makes no differences to your life satisfaction; at worst, it can actually mean you feel less fulfilled. That’s not to say that everyone with a high IQ is a tortured genius.

So why don’t the benefits of sharper intelligence pay off in the long term?

One possibility is that knowledge of your talents become something of a ball and chain. The surviving Termites were asked to look back at the events in their 80-year lifespan. Rather than chilling in their successes, many of them reported that they had been overwhelmed by the sense that they had somehow failed to live up to their youthful expectations.

That sense of burden – particularly when combined with others’ expectations – is a recurring motif for many other gifted children and people.

The most interesting case study I found:

The most notable and strangest case for me, is the maths prodigy Sufiah Yusof. Enrolled at Oxford University at age 12, she dropped out of her course before taking her finals and started waitressing. She later then worked as a call girl called Shilpa Lee and now does something completely different and writes blogs on media issues and her personal website is Inquiring Feminist.

You can also follow her on Twitter here:

Another common complaint, often heard in student bars and internet forums, is that smarter people somehow have a clearer vision of the world’s failings. Where the rest of the world are blinkered from existential anxiety, smarter people lay awake agonising over the human condition or other people’s problems.

So, another sign of being too intelligent is constant worrying, anxiety and...


Studies found that those with higher IQ did indeed feel more anxiety throughout the day. Interestingly, most worries were mundane and day-to-day concerns. The high-IQ students that were studied in the Termite programme, were far more likely to be replaying an awkward conversation, than asking the “big questions”. It’s not that their worries were deeper, but they were just worrying more often about more things. If something negative happened, they thought about it more.

So a common problem is that smart people spend too much time contemplating and analysing.

In this case you might realise how maudlin it is when you try to find the existential significance of every concept and experience. More simply, trying to find answers to things that it pushes you to the point of death and realise nothing really means anything.

So what I am actually trying to say is that smart people may find it impossible to make a choice because of the ramifications of these decisions especially the tendency to over analyse the consequences which in turn, makes it a decision not made at all.

A picture of a boy with a helmit

Mental blind spots

The severe truth, however, is that greater intelligence does not equate to wiser decisions; in fact, in some cases it might make your choices a little more foolish.

Did you know that people who ace cognitive tests, are more likely to see past their own flaws?

That’s not all. People who ace standard cognitive tests are in fact slightly more likely to have a “bias blind spot”. That means, they are less able to see their own flaws, even when they are quite capable of criticising the faults of others.

They also have a greater tendency to fall for the “gambler’s fallacy”.

What is the gamblers fallacy?

The gambler's fallacy, also known as the Monte Carlo fallacy or the fallacy of the maturity of chances, is the mistaken belief that, if something happens more frequently than normal during a given period, it will happen less frequently in the future.

This can also lead stock investors to sell their shares before they reach peak value – in the belief that their luck has to run out sooner or later.

A tendency to rely on gut instincts rather than rational thought might also explain why a surprisingly high number of people believe in the paranormal; or why someone with an IQ of 140 is about twice as likely to max out their credit card.

So, if intelligence doesn’t lead to rational decisions and a better life, what does?

Learnt wisdom

Being super smart often means appreciating the limits of your own cognition. So while you try, you’ll never be able to learn or understand everything.

Intelligence is a curse when… the more you know, the more you feel the less you know.

In the future, employers may well begin to start testing other abilities in place of IQ; Google has already announced that it plans to screen candidates for qualities like intellectual humility, rather than sheer cognitive prowess.

No matter what your IQ score, I think, with many others I’m sure, believe that wisdom can be trained. I think we often find it easier to leave our notions behind when we consider other people, rather than ourselves.

The biggest challenge in life, I believe, will always be getting people to admit their own faults. If you’ve been able to rest on the laurels of your intelligence all your life, it could be very hard to accept that it has been blinding your judgement.

Which leaves me with one last question:

Is the wisest person not really the one who can admit he knows nothing?

Let me know in the comments section below and thanks for reading my blog post! Be blessed.

Related post: Tips for working with smarter people

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Martin Grobler

About Martin

Martin is a digital marketing specialist, a producer and always online. His educational background is Digital and has given him a broad base from which to approach many topics. His wife & little girl comes first and in his spare time he really enjoys making music. You can learn more about him [HERE].
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