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Surprising Science

Like Intelligence, Worry Is an Evolved Survival Skill

New research confirms that worry is associated with high intelligence levels, suggesting that an aversion to dangerous situations has evolved as an important survival skill for our species. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A new study suggests that worry and intelligence, because of how they act on the brain, may have evolved simultaneously as important survival skills for our species. At SUNY Downstate Medical Center, scientists measured the intelligence quotient and levels of worry in individuals diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder as well as in a control group. In individuals diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, higher levels of intelligence were positively correlated with a greater tendency to worry. “High intelligence and worry both correlate with brain activity measured by the depletion of the nutrient choline in the subcortical white matter of the brain.”

What’s the Big Idea?

While too much worry is generally considered a negative trait, and intelligence usually a positive trait, “worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be,” said Jeremy Coplan, MD, professor of psychiatry at SUNY Downstate. “In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.” Previous studies have observed that higher rates of worry are associated with people of higher and lower intelligence. 

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