Are People Who Prefer Spending Time Alone ‘More Evolved’?

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A plus for the socially reluctant.

Woman's feet dangling off a perch

Do you love your own company? Is the idea of a Friday in with a book blissful? Do you cringe when you look at your calendar and it’s full of social functions? Don’t worry! Two scientists have discovered that, actually, the level of social interaction you enjoy may reveal a lot about your intelligence level – and a reluctance to socialise could be a sign of smartness.

Satoshi Kanazawa, of the London School of Economics, and Norman Li, of Singapore Management University, measured the level of happiness in 15,000 people of varying IQ levels in a study that examined how population and friendship affect modern happiness.

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Although they found that spending time with friends elevates feelings of happiness and joy in the majority of people, when they focused on participants in a high IQ bracket, they found the opposite to be the case – more intelligent individuals experience lower life satisfaction with more frequent socialisation with friends.

It’s not the first study to suggest such a theory. Research suggests that brains of introverts and brains of extroverts are physiologically different. A 2012 study by Randy Buckner of Harvard University discovered that introverts tended to have larger, thicker grey matter in their prefrontal cortex – the section of the brain associated with abstract thought and decision making.

“More intelligent individuals experience lower life satisfaction with more frequent socialisation with friends.”

Across history, some of the most innovative minds in the world have been self-confessed introverts, from Albert Einstein to Bill Gates, whose favourite thinking spot is a (US$9 million!) cabin in the woods, cut off from civilisation.

A study of children found that high-IQ classmates reported they did not have enough friends; the friends they tended to have were older than themselves and they believed that being smart made it harder for them to make friends too.

Read More: Why ‘Micro-Bravery’ Is The New Key to Achieving Your Goals

But a reluctance to socialise doesn’t mean you’re not a nice person. Although research associates a higher IQ with social anxiety, a study from Lakehead University also found these people are, generally, more empathetic to the feelings of others. Research from a separate study even found a higher rate of vegetarianism in people with a higher IQ, which researchers suggest could be because they’re more compassionate.

Does this mean you have an excuse to cancel your plans this weekend? Not entirely.

“If you are a natural introvert, it is important to still encourage yourself to socialise,” says Dr Samantha Clarke, a clinical psychologist who works with CEOs and entrepreneurs, “No matter what our IQ, we still exist in relation to other people, as a husband, wife, employer or colleague. To be our best self in these role means it’s important for us to engage socially.” It doesn’t mean you need to attend the opening of an envelope. “Choosing social interactions in line with your values is essential and likely to influence your level of happiness,” she says, “If you are an introvert and you do not enjoy connecting with people in large groups, as the conversation quality changes, then spending time with just one close friend may be more meaningful and more pleasurable.”

Dreading a social occasion? There are ways to ease your negative feelings. “Focus on the thing you can control in the situation – your behaviour,” says Doctor Clarke, “If you are going into a networking event, focus on slow speech, good eye contact and spending time connecting with one or two people. Remember that behaviours are what you can control, and see if you can allow fear or nerves to be there just as it is, as sensation in the body.”

Alternatively, find another socially awkward guest and make an early exit together.

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