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Is being a worrier a sign of intelligence?



Well-known member
Mar 23, 2009
We usually see worry as a bad thing. It feels unpleasant, like a snake coiling in the pit of your stomach. And worriers are often considered weak links in a team - negative influences who lack confidence. But of course, anxiety has a useful function. It's about anticipating and preparing for threats, and learning from past mistakes.

Increasingly psychologists are recognising the strengths of people who are prone to anxiety. For example, there's research showing that people more prone to anxiety are quicker to detect threats and better at lie detection. Now Alexander Penney and his colleagues have conducted a survey of over 100 students and they report that a tendency to worry goes hand in hand with higher intelligence.

The researchers asked the students to complete measures of worry, anxiety, depression, rumination, social phobia, dwelling on past social events, mood, verbal intelligence, non-verbal intelligence, and test anxiety. This last measure was important because the researchers wanted to distinguish trait anxiety from in-the-moment state anxiety and how each relates to intelligence.

The key finding was that after controlling for the influence of test anxiety and current mood, the students who reported a general habit of worrying more (e.g. they agreed with survey statements like "I am always worrying about something") and/or ruminating more (e.g. they said they tended to think about their sadness, or think "what am doing to deserve this?") also tended to score higher on the test of verbal intelligence, which was taken from the well-known Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. To take one specific example, verbal intelligence correlated with worry proneness with a statistically significant value of .19 (after controlling for test anxiety and mood), explaining an estimated 46 per cent of the variance in worry.

Another result, not so promising for worriers, was that a tendency to dwell on past social events was negatively correlated with non-verbal intelligence (that is, those students who dwelt more on past events scored lower on non-verbal IQ).

BPS Research Digest: Is being a worrier a sign of intelligence?

This makes sense to me as someone who worries a lot and whose verbal IQ
is significantly higher than his non-verbal IQ .


Well-known member
Aug 17, 2012
The West Country
I can definitely see how this could be the case.
Some people who are very happy seem to be a bit dim.
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