The idea that a high degree of socialization and intelligence don’t go together seems not just to be a popular perception but a fact.
You know the typical crowd, “Wow, it’s Friday night, what are you going to do? Just sit there?” Well, yeah. Because there’s nothing out there. It’s stupidity. Stupid people mingling with stupid people. Let them stupidify themselves.
~ Charles Bukowski
A study aimed at finding the correlation between evolution and socialization found that ‘more intelligent individuals experience lower life satisfaction with more frequent socialization’.
The researchers posited that the reason for this may be that highly intelligent people are more adapted to modern living than others, as ancestral living conditions entailed far more reliance on socialization for survival.
There are other possible reasons why intelligent people may avoid a high degree of social contact:
1. Intelligent people may lack social skills
“I am alone, I thought, and they are everybody.”
~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky
William Little’s Introduction to Sociology cites the case of a man called Chris Langan ‘the smartest man you’ve never heard of’. It describes Langan as having an IQ of over 195, which is 100 points higher than that of the average human being. He’s thought to have been among the most intelligent people the world has ever seen.
Chris Langan, however, enjoyed no success or achievement in his life. He worked various low-level jobs and had a life story filled with disappointment and isolation.
The problem, according to psychologist Robert Sternberg, was that Chris Langan lacked the social skills to make achievements corresponding to his intelligence. He was incapable of ‘knowing what to say to whom, knowing how to say it, and knowing how to say it to maximum effect’ (Sternberg et al. 2000).
This is an extreme example, of course, and many intelligent people know at least how to communicate enough to get on in life. However, it’s possible that what people gain in intelligence, they often lose in social skills.
2. Socialization is a distraction from work
“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
An obvious factor behind the avoidance of socialization that we see in intelligent people is that socializing takes up a good deal of time and effort. Intelligent people are far more likely than unintelligent people to have interests that reach beyond who is dating whom and what so-and-so is wearing.
Most intelligent people are compelled to act on their intelligence in some way by working on something, whether it’s a personal project or something to do with their career. They may also simply prefer consuming knowledge through reading or other intellectual pursuits than spending time out with friends.
3. It’s more difficult to fit in with the crowd
“So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.”
~ Sylvia Plath
Lack of socialization may not always be a conscious choice for intelligent people. However, being more intelligent than others can be isolating for reasons that are beyond the intelligent person’s control. Even if they have adequate social skills, they may still find it very difficult to fit in with people and may find they share little common ground with people of average intelligence.
People don’t understand, and care even less, about the things they are interested in. People may view them as boring at best and arrogant at worst. People often don’t like being around people who are their intellectual superiors as it makes them feel stupid.
Intelligent people who face loneliness as a result of their differences with the vast majority of people may find themselves having to ‘play dumb’ to get along with people.
This can make them appear more normal to others, but below the surface, they may suffer from an even greater degree of loneliness and isolation as they realize that none of their ‘friends’ actually know who they are on the inside.
4. Socialization causes greater anxiety in intelligent people
“I have long held the opinion that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity and therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it.”
~ Arthur Schopenhauer
Research has shown that intelligent people are more prone to anxiety than people of average intelligence. It has been shown that they’re more likely to spend time replaying unpleasant or embarrassing scenes in their head than anything else – even than thinking on intellectual matters if such scenes should occur.
This demonstrates that socialization can have an adverse rather than positive effect on intelligent people, as they’re more likely to suffer than average people if something goes wrong – which it frequently does.
As such anxiety can have a negative impact on health, it’s easy to understand why intelligent people may choose to shy away from excessive social interaction.
As German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out in his essay entitled On Noise, intelligent people are less likely to be able to stand environments with a great deal of noise and disturbance.
For this reason, going to clubs and busy bars where people usually like to socialize is something that intelligent people may try to avoid.
Ultimately, loneliness may be an affliction the intelligent have to bear as the price they pay for their intelligence.
Whenever you feel down because you feel like you don’t fit in and never will, remember: you’re in good company.
“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke”
~ Vincent van Gogh