[link] The surprising downsides of being clever

post by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-04-18T20:33:12.086Z · score: 1 (6 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 34 comments

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” ― Ernest HemingwayThe Garden of Eden see here

Did you know The surprising downsides of being clever? Is Happiness And Intelligence: Rare Combination? There are longitudinal studies which seem to imply this: Being Labeled as Gifted, Self-appraisal, and Psychological Well-being: A Life Span Developmental Perspective

I found these via slashdot.

As LessWrong is harbor to unusually high-IQ people (see section B in here). I wonder how happiness compares to the mean. What are your thoughts.

 

34 comments

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comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-18T22:02:58.563Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not super intelligent by any means, but I do just barely fall into the top 1%, and I think that among others who do, I'm BY FAR among the happiest. A lot of this is because of all my ugh fields.

If something is unpleasant to think about, I will very briefly think about thinking about it. (If I thought about X unpleasant issue, what are the odds I would actually do something about it?) If the odds are small enough, I go back to not thinking about it. I have a lot of ugh fields.

The fulfillment thing is a really good point too. I've had jobs, but never a "career" because I choose to travel and have fun instead. Until very recently, it was another ugh field for me. I may have thought about it once or twice for a minute or two, decided I probably wouldn't actually go do something ambitious even upon further thought, and stopped thinking about it for very long periods of time. Well, last time I thought about thinking about the ugh field, I decided the odds were sufficiently high that I would actually go do something ambitious, so now I'm in the process of confronting the ugh field itself. I don't think it will make me happier or even proportionately more satisfied, but I think it could fulfill my other terminal value of making the world happier.

comment by adamzerner · 2015-04-19T03:57:46.343Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My guesses

Common reasons:

  • Feel pressure to be smarter and more successful. Could be internal or external.

Less common reasons:

  • Poisoned by ambition.
  • Trouble finding people smart enough that they could talk to and/or have a real relationship with (could refer to friend or romantic).
  • Frustration with other people's stupidity.

Other possibilities:

  • Stress that comes with overfocus on self-improvement + more awareness and frustration with flaws.
  • Troubled by the suffering and unfairness in the world.
  • Troubled by unanswered questions they have.
comment by sentientplatypus · 2015-04-22T22:15:11.776Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Trouble finding people smart enough that they could talk to and/or have a real relationship with (could refer to friend or romantic).

If I'm sad, this is probably why.

comment by adamzerner · 2015-04-22T22:28:51.459Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's a big thing for me too.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-04-18T21:21:47.522Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would not be surprised if increased intelligence was implicated in a neurophysiological trade off with mental health, but the most obvious handicaps of high intelligence come from being in a social environment of lower general intelligence, optimized for lower intelligence.

Location and age cohort based education is designed for the center of the bell curve at the expense of the tails in about every way imaginable. It's a bad fit socially, because large discrepancies in intelligence makes for difficulty in relating. It's crippling intellectually, because beyond being bored to tears, you're not learning how to control and drive yourself toward goals, which is the fundamental skill to be developed in your youth.

Happily, as in a great many things, a first world youngling smarty pants of today has it so much better. Access to all the world's information, access to online training in all the worlds information, and access to smart people who will interact with you.

You know what I had? An encyclopedia! And I was lucky to have it.

Once you're older, self segregation gets easier to accomplish, both socially and professionally, and it makes a difference. People like people like themselves. Smart people will hire you because you're smart, and not so smart people won't hire you because you're smart.

comment by TezlaKoil · 2015-04-19T06:20:05.906Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Location and age cohort based education is designed for the center of the bell curve at the expense of the tails in about every way imaginable. It's a bad fit socially, because large discrepancies in intelligence makes for difficulty in relating. It's crippling intellectually, because beyond being bored to tears, you're not learning how to control and drive yourself toward goals, which is the fundamental skill to be developed in your youth.

I went to an elementary school for gifted children, so all of my classmates had above-average intelligence, and we had a challenging academic program. I'd be really surprised if we'd turn out to be any happier, or better at driving ourselves towards goals, than high-intelligence people who were educated in regular schools. In fact, my intuition tells me that these problems are not environmental but biological in origin.

Is there any hard data on this? Are high-IQ people who grow up in high-IQ environments happier or more goal-oriented than high-IQ people who grow up in an average-IQ environment?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-18T22:24:13.056Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

the most obvious handicaps of high intelligence come from being in a social environment of lower general intelligence, optimized for lower intelligence.

Hmm, good point how being smarter than others in the social environment can decrease happiness. But could that be outweighed by a related increase happiness?

For example, think back to school days. Some kids struggle with homework, but others finish it quickly and easily, freeing up time to pursue fun. Same thing with adult life. Some people struggle just to get by day-to-day. Intelligent people can think about how to get by expending less time and effort, freeing up more physical and mental to pursue what they're passionate about.

That's been my personal experience anyway, but most of the things I enjoy are physical activities like games and sports that don't always require high-intellect friends. And I did spend a lot more time with my family than my friends, and I realized it wasn't purely because I loved my family members more; I also enjoyed their company more since they were smarter.

comment by Manfred · 2015-04-18T20:54:17.288Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think there is a very significant difference between average LWers' and average peoples' happiness, but that very little of it has to do with intelligence directly. We probably spend less time on family, friends, sex, singing, and running around outside (all wonderful things that increase happiness) than average, though we probably do more dancing than average (also happiness-increasing).

Overall, I find this subject and framing tiresome. Go plan how to spend more time with friends and family.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-18T21:23:17.010Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

though we probably do more dancing than average (also happiness-increasing).

Do you really think so? Dancing is a highly social activity for extroverts that people with any hint of autism spectrum rarely do, and the last thing I would imagine about the LW community is to be less autistic than the average. I would say some amount of it is almost a precondition for rationalism: there is at least a slight autism in thinking a belief is something you form yourself, individually, on the inside, based on evidence, not an inner echo simply reflecting the socially expected opinion. You need to shut yourself a little bit from social life to have that, to make your beliefs really individual and not social echo based.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-04-18T23:06:39.799Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Dancing is a highly social activity for extroverts that people with any hint of autism spectrum rarely do, and the last thing I would imagine about the LW community is to be less autistic than the average.

The social dance scene is full of over educated introverts. Ritualized social interaction. Uncomfortable chit chat is not required.

Also, I think introverts tend toward kinesthetic sensory focus, for which dance provides a natural outlet.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-19T20:10:16.835Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I do spent a lot of time dancing but it produces little conversations that are influential for the beliefs I hold.

Dancing in a context with loud music doesn't really produce an environment that produces social expectations about beliefs you hold.

It's not time in which I about substantial new beliefs, but there's other time for that. It doesn't even have to be alone time. Conversations with other people who also care that their beliefs are based on evidence and who are well read is just as good for forming new beliefs as forming than alone on the internet.

comment by Manfred · 2015-04-19T01:08:25.549Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well. Shows how useful that line of argument is. lololol

comment by Username · 2015-04-19T08:18:39.522Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We probably spend less time on family, friends, sex, singing, and running around outside (all wonderful things that increase happiness)

The first one of those (and, to a lesser extent, the last one) doesn't increase happiness for me...

comment by eternal_neophyte · 2015-04-20T00:59:09.135Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm fairly happy but I have Stoicism and Taoism to thank for that. Mental health in my experience depends on having the right psychological toolkit.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-04-20T12:49:42.577Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Toolkit suggests something you come by via exposure not via learning (as learning is presumably facilitated by IQ).

What are the toolkits for happiness one acquires as a non high-IQ person? I guess some of these are social tools from like-minded people.

comment by eternal_neophyte · 2015-04-20T14:11:42.087Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "exposure"? I'm talking about having healthy habits of thought and developing psychological resilience as laid out by the Stoics. This is done through practicing Stoic techniques such as voluntary discomfort, putting misfortunes into perspective and considering all the ways in which you have been quite fortunate. Whether you want to call this "exposure" or "learning" doesn't seem to make a difference to me.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-04-20T19:34:03.237Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why are high IQ people no as happy as other people? It might be a predisposition due to some natural correlation of intelligence and happyness. But beside that what remains? If happiness can be learned as you suggest how come the best learners acquire this the least? I try to differentiate two aspects of how happiness can be acquired: Via explicit intentional learning and via other means. I'm not sure how procedural knowledge acquisition factors in IQ, but that might be one thing. And then there may be areas that could be learned easily but that for some reason are not on the list for high IQ people. One might be because the technique is associated for whatever reason with circles which high IQ people leave. The technique could be 'too' easy to be of interest.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-20T23:03:28.257Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Most high IQ people are very far from having learned a decent psychological toolkit. Schools are poor at teaching people to be happy.

comment by eternal_neophyte · 2015-04-21T00:51:50.690Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is this something you would expect school teachers to be able to teach? Perhaps in a monastery style setting it could work. But teaching kids how to be happy alongside the normal curriculum in the usual state school setting may be asking too much. Has it been tried anywhere to your knowledge?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-22T16:48:47.037Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think various different trainers in the personal development scene can hold seminars that significantly change a person's psychological toolkit in a matter of weeks.

Even if you can't create an environment of similar strength, there no real reason why you can't take David Burns Feeling Good Handbook and teach the material to children.

But teaching kids how to be happy alongside the normal curriculum in the usual state school setting may be asking too much.

The normal curriculum is broken. Most schools are places where a variety of factors prevent student from being open about their emotional issues. If I'm being graded on me own written investigation of a uncomfortable belief I'm unlikely to open up and tackle things of which I'm really afraid.

There no reason to teach student to interpret poems but not skills like dealing with their own limiting beliefs.

Has it been tried anywhere to your knowledge?

In the UK there push to do things like teaching happiness:

Under the Birmingham initiative, emotional well-being is being made one of six priority outcomes in the authority's schools, which teach 180,000 youngsters.

The article lists as criticism:

A Scottish charity which drew on 20 international studies warned the classes could blunt children's competitive and entrepeneurial edge by placing too great an emphasis on avoiding hurting people's feelings.

Of course if your goal is to avoid hurting people's feelings you are unlikely to get very far. You don't want an enviroment in which no child cries but in which it's okay to cry and the person who cries is supported.

comment by Kawoomba · 2015-04-20T23:20:37.445Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Teaching happiness can be -- and often is -- at odds with teaching epistemic rationality.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-22T16:58:41.062Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It can also help with epistemic rationality if you teach people to identify distorted thinking via the CBT framework as layed out in David Burns "The Feeling Good Handbook".

Effectively dealing with one's own emotions helps with clear thinking.

On the other hand when you try to get school teacher to do something right it's quite possible that they mess up and at the end you have less epistemic rationality.

comment by eternal_neophyte · 2015-04-20T21:21:52.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Having a high IQ doesn't necessarily mean you're going to excel in all areas of learning. One area which may be decoupled from G is kinesthetic intelligence which determines dexterity, or artistic creativity.

The technique could be 'too' easy to be of interest.

Wouldn't surprise me.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-20T12:59:39.879Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Self-confidence. I can see it on my relatives. The dumbest ones are usually the most cocksure, and while this leads the wrong decisions occasionally, it really keeps them free from worry and as such free from much stress. They sleep well.

The funny part is that it leads to wrong decision far less often than I would expect to. While they are sure of themselves, they somehow still keep wisely out of things they know nothing about so they don't invest their money in industries they don't understand and so on. This is sort of difficult to map for me. I think their cocksurety is largely about thinking they are good about things they are really experienced about. They understand wandering out of their area of expertise would be dangerous. They identify with what they did so far, identify with their profession, have this I-am-good confidence, but also the attitude that I-am-a-bricklayer and understand they would know very little outside bricklaying, but since they identify with what they do, they are cocksure inside that domain. Everything else they are simply not interested in. Does that even make sense? Basically less intelligent people being less curious so less bothered by things they don't know outside their domain, and thus knowing their domain well enough makes them confident enough, does that even make sense?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-18T21:12:49.195Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Reading the sequences, I think I understand the difference between rationality vs. cleverness on the gut level, as I spent a lot of time wondering about the idea of big and small egos, and cleverness is a lot like big IQ with big ego, but if anyone can recommend good articles I may have missed I would be interested.

I also think Gunnar and Eliezer may cleverness differently, I think Gunnar means it as intelligence and Eliezer means it as intelligence (mis)used to "show off".

As far as I can tell, both are correct, the first is the dictionary definition and the second coming from "clever" being such an often used praise, esp. by parents and teachers that at some point it got associated with seeking that praise, and status, hence the showing-off association.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-18T21:20:28.428Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

One of the reasons I don't really understand how intelligence can mean optimization or goal-seeking is that I too have seen it negatively correlated with happiness. Happiness can mean many things but probably one big chunk of its meaning will be a felt reward for goals achieved so this disassociation does not really go well with it being an optimization or goal-reaching ability.

You have probably heard the Bertrand Russel quote (1951) "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision." if there is any truth in it, the issue is that intelligence causes worrying and thus stress and unhappiness.

I may be a pessimist but often it felt unavoidable to me, the smarter you are, the more ways you can imagine how can things go horribly wrong.

Of course it is possible that it is another factor, let's dub it with a (not very) random variable name D, the D factor making you invest your mind into making up negative outcomes, not positive outcomes. Perhaps very intelligent people with very low D factor exist who can imagine a hundred ways how a plan can work better than expected.

But, alas, it seems smart people worry more than utopianize, come up with more negative outcomes than positive ones.

I wonder if there is a method to force your brain to imagine a potential positive outcome for every imagined negative one.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-04-19T07:42:41.911Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One of the reasons I don't really understand how intelligence can mean optimization or goal-seeking is that I too have seen it negatively correlated with happiness. Happiness can mean many things but probably one big chunk of its meaning will be a felt reward for goals achieved so this disassociation does not really go well with it being an optimization or goal-reaching ability.

If people choose goals according to their ability to achieve them, then ability and success in achieving those goals will be uncorrelated. Where a correlation would be expected is between ability and achievements, not between ability and the difference between achievements and goals.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-19T12:00:41.956Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Intelligence is a puzzle-solving, dealing-with-complexity thing, the measure of how complicated a picture can be broken down to elements (understanding, analysis) and reassembled (model, prediction). At least this is how doing the Raven tests feels like. What puzzles me about intelligence-as-goal-achieving-ability is that is this really the bottleneck in so many goals? In my experience very few goals require dealing with complexity, and the most succesful people I personally know are rather simple-minded, their success lied in choosing a goal and then never, ever ever giving up, having a bulldog-like determination. Complexity was usually not a part of the picture.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-19T22:19:40.578Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if there is a method to force your brain to imagine a potential positive outcome for every imagined negative one.

Gratitude journaling is a good evidence-based way to put more of your attention on positive outcomes.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-20T07:24:06.304Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't it have a failure mode where if you have low self-worth issues, inferiority complex issues, then being aware of lucky things happening to you just makes you really feel you have not deserved them? This is the main reason I am wary of trying it.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-20T14:46:51.233Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you might lack a concept of what gratitude is. It's an emotion. It makes you feel warm. That in turn quite often leads to higher feeling of self worth.

Most people internal sense of self worth does get updated when they see evidence indicating that they actually do deserve something because they get it.

If I ask a woman out and she agrees than my self-worth rises. If she rejects me my self worth might drop a bit. In either case I might still question the wisdom of her decision and not base my complete self worth on one interaction but if over time interactions do effect my feeling of self-worth.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-20T14:52:54.683Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't gratitude a deep, heartfelt thank-you to others, to life, to the universe, but not to yourself, because it is based being thankful for getting something you were not owed? Because if you get something you was owed, why feel this? And if you earn something yourself, it is not like getting an un-owed present from yourself...

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-20T23:02:40.340Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are longitudinal studies which seem to imply this: Being Labeled as Gifted, Self-appraisal, and Psychological Well-being: A Life Span Developmental Perspective

Does it?

In previous work on the Terman sample, the participants were found to have high levels of subjective well-being, on average in their mid-seventies.

However it says:

Individuals who learned earlier of their participation in the Terman Study were almost 50 percent more likely to say that they have not lived up to their intellectual abilities than those who learned later of their participation in the Study.

Didn't we lately have a discussion about the growth mindset?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-19T17:40:01.246Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

unusually high-IQ people

I think it's a combination of a few regulars, the sequences, and a good post here and there that is the ideal way to say it.

Sorry for everyone who bases their self-esteem on their IQ.