WORK-LIFE BALANCE / DEC. 25, 2014
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Is Worrying At Work A Sign of Intelligence

To be regarded as a bit of a worrier is seldom regarded as a positive thing. It tends to go hand in hand with being regarded as a bit pessimistic or overly cautious. You’re a weak link who looks at the negative side of any debate. Maybe you even lack the confidence to follow your instincts and take that risk.

It would be wrong to label worrying as a purely negative characteristic however.  After all, there are times when being able to sense danger or prepare for threats is a useful attribute to have.

A recent study goes as far as to suggest that being prone to a good bit of worrying is far from a negative trait, but is, in fact, a sign of your intelligence.

Why worrying equals intelligence

The study saw participants surveyed with the aim of uncovering how they feel about a whole range of psychological measures. These included anxiety and worry, depression, social phobias, verbal intelligence, rumination, dwelling on past events, non-verbal intelligence and even exam anxiety. Quite a mixture if you have all of those!

The last of these measures was of particular importance to the study because it allowed researchers to separate the kind of anxiety that emerges in particular circumstances from the kind of anxieties that are more inbuilt. They could then see if smarter people tend to worry more.

Once they stripped out the circumstantial worriers, it emerged that people who tended to worry more often, and would also reflect on their worrying, tended to do better on tests for both verbal and non-verbal intelligence.

Something for the worriers to worry about

Of course, it wouldn’t be quite right if the research didn’t provide the worriers something to sweat about. The researchers also found that when people tended to dwell on past events, this was found to correlate negatively with non-verbal intelligence. In other words, when people dwelled on the past, they tended to score lower in non-verbal IQ tests.

So why was this form of worrying apparently harmful to our intelligence, whilst other forms weren’t? The researchers suggest it’s all down to how verbal and non-verbal intelligence is processed in our brains.

"...more verbally intelligent individuals are able to consider past and future events in greater detail, leading to more intense rumination and worry. Individuals with high non-verbal intelligence may be stronger at processing the non-verbal signals they interact with in the moment, leading to a decreased need to re-process past social encounters," they suggest.

Suffice to say, we should be mindful not to worry too much about the results of this study.  The sample size used was not huge, and it was not done under clinical conditions. We should be careful before drawing too firm a conclusion from it therefore. There have been other studies that have drawn a broadly similar conclusion, however, in the sense that when we’re good at ruminating, it suggests we’re more verbally intelligent.

All of this, however, might help put your mind at ease if you happen to be something of a worrier yourself.

 

Image: iStock

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