Some thoughts on whether intelligence is linked to anxiety and depression

Originally published at:


self selection is not a random sample.


Right, as Cory basically pointed out:

Second, joining MENSA may be an indicator of some underlying insecurity about your intellect or place in the world, reflecting a predisposition to depression or anxiety, so they may have instead discovered that MENSA membership (not high IQ) is correlated with mental illness.

Third, the sample self-selected from an email blast to the MENSA membership, so again, perhaps they’ve found a link between a willingness to disclose mental illness to researchers and high IQ, or MENSA membership, or whatever.

Anyway, I’ve wondered if being smarter than the average boor can mean that a person is basically better at seeing how depressingly rigged in favor of the privileged society is.


Or just being aware how fucked up the world is in general.


People who feel the need to whip out their brains and compare mental dick size…


I had an introspective “Aha!” moment, when I realized that the majority of people around me, do not enjoy thinking about why they do the things they do. Its dirty, sweaty, laborious work, for them to do what I like to do for fun.

This realization made me much less depressed, because all my life I’d been asking people WTF is going on in their heads, expecting a comfortable answer. Their dishonest refusal (from my perspective) had always been infuriating.

While the Church of the Subgenius teaches that its OK to be smarter than most everyone around you, it offers little guidance on how to be compassionate to those less intellectually gifted than oneself. Finding a way not to come off like some smug, self satisfied asshole, would go a long way toward easing depression, particularly for this population.

MENSA’s original charter was to use that brainpower to solve the world’s most vexing problems. It quickly re-focused itself on making its membership slightly less uncomfortable.

I believe this was because the world’s problems do not arise from any sort of intellectual deficit, but rather an emotional one. And it’s far easier to pursue mere cleverness than it is to pursue wisdom. It seems likely that a fast mind is really a disadvantage in seeking wisdom. (all those SQUIRREL! moments)


I like your perspective on this. Also, I forgot what I came here to say.


Aye, last I checked, MENSA membership (or at least the testing) isn’t cheap. Desperation strikes me as a likely motive to sign up – either out of a need to prove something, or in the hopes of escaping loneliness.


Great piece, thank you for writing it!

My opinion of MENSA (and somewhat of IQ) was formed many years ago as an impressionable and enthusiastic high-school sophomore. Fully invested in America’s carrot-on-a-stick system of praise (ie. public high school), I was accustomed to getting my praise-fix by seeking good grades. In this mindset, I loved the idea of getting “public certification” of my “vast” intelligence in the form of admission into MENSA. I asked my high school guidance counselor to give me an IQ test for that purpose. He did, and I applied, soon receiving MENSA’s notice of acceptance…along with their solicitation for $30 for a year’s membership dues. Thankfully, my “intelligence” was “vast” enough to see through that game and understand that (much like “Who’s Who”) there were organizations set up to happily accept peoples’ money in return for stroking their egos. When Stephen Hawking later issued his pithy quote about people who boast about their IQ scores, I was on board 100%.


It’s difficult to come off as anything other than smug and self-satisfied when one openly acknowledges the hard truth that there are a lot of truly stupid people out there. Qualifying it by noting that stupid != evil and that intelligence != wisdom (see the teachings of the sage Gygax) only does so much to soften the impression. Showing compassion to the less intellectually gifted also can also come off as being condescending – it takes training and effort to do it right.

Sharing that understanding with others in the appropriate contexts (e.g. privately in a heart-to-heart with a bright young acquaintance, or pseudonymously on a public BBS filled with a lot of smart people) can be healthy and help reduce anxiety and depression. MENSA, being a public organisation with non-anonymous users that is devoted to touting the superiority of geniuses, is not an appropriate context.

And not always rigged in favour of rewarding intelligence.


My own observations are sympathetic to the “multiple intelligences” theory. As a teenager I tested absurdly high on the Stanford-Binet v3, and yet I’m a complete idiot.


I have rarely met anyone who didn’t consider themselves smarter than average.


I don’t like to think about that.


When I was younger, I fantasized about joining this org…got tested and was allowed in. The fact is, the IQ needed to get in isn’t even that great. You need at least a 130 (i.e., two standard deviations above the norm)…which may seem high until you realize that almost anyone that goes to college is at 115. I mean, we know that this is an average…STEM students are usually smarter, liberal arts students revert back to the mean…that sort of thing.

And then if you weed out undergrads, the average is about 125 even at the Masters level.

Get a grad degree that is worth something and then you don’t need to measure your tiny dick. You won’t have to join a club with smart people because you will have aligned your life where you are already around smart people. And when you are, you quickly learn that the average MENSA member really isn’t as smart as those you meet working in your local community college where people are actually working to do something with that intelligence and not just pulling out rulers. I’m one of the dumber people in my cohort…and I like it like that.

That said, as a non-practicing psychometricist…I can safely say that it is far easier to identify mental illness in the higher intelligences because it is just obvious. In the stupid? Too much background noise.


Well if you weren’t so stupid, you’d be anxious and depressed too!


Get a grad degree and then measure your tiny dick by someone else’s standard?


It brings to mind all that Horatio Algiers mythology that America still clings to, despite all evidence to the contrary.

And if meritocracy were capable of building a better world, surely we’d be seeing its benefits by now, yes?

It’s been nearly a year now, and I still am stuck in horrified disbelief that so stupid a man could possibly become elevated to the nation’s highest office. It seems as if being smart is suddenly somehow irrelevant, that only one’s bank account matters anymore. If you don’t have money, you couldn’t be that smart, right?


I’d like to think so. But Michael Young, credited with coining the term “meritocracy”, himself didn’t envision it as building a better world: quite the opposite.


When I joined MENSA (I was about 23, I think), I was petrified of public gatherings, but the thing is, going to those casual meetups with my “birds of a feather” allowed me to emerge from my self-imposed shell. I knew that there, I wouldn’t be goofed on for being a nerd. After 3 or 4 years I was ready to move on.


I use to have the same beliefs…OH NO! I WILL NOT BE JUDGED BY YOUR STANDARDS…I was 30 when I got my first degree. Had a career that I saw the world and made a lot of money and I thought the degree with worthless because it meant having to follow someone else’s rules.

Then I realized that these things are dead simple…follow the instructions for a few hours a week and go about your life. If following someone elses standards for 8% of a week is tough, PROBABLY NOT THAT SMART.

That said, I’m a dumbass…and prove it every day.


Or they simply found a correlation between willingness to participate in studies on mental illness and having a mental illness that is 100% unrelated to being intelligent or even being a member of MENSA. You can’t compare 3715 self-selected MENSA members to the general population. You have to at very least compare them to 3715 self-selected members of some other large organization whose mandate is totally unrelated to intelligence. This study risks being totally unrelated to the thing its studying. (Of course maybe the researchers actually did account for this in some way that totally inobvious from what I can read about it, but I’m skeptical)

If there is a relationship between introspection and depression, there’s no reason to start guessing about which direction causality runs in. I’d place a sizable wager that gay people are more introspective than straight people, and transgender people far more introspective than cisgender people. But introspection doesn’t make you gay or trans (it may help you realize you are gay or trans earlier than you otherwise would have). There’s lots of research now linking proneness to inflammation with depression. I’m going trying to generalize, but I bet for someone out there the causality runs from allergies to feeling bad to depression to wondering why you feel so depressed to being an introspective person.

I also want to point out that any link between intelligence and depression is going to be completely dependent on culture. Maybe intelligent people are more likely to be depressed because they are more likely to notice that we have organized our society in a fundamentally depressing way. As someone who has very strong objective evidence that I’m staggeringly intelligent (at least in the way IQ is likely to measure) and that I’m prone to serious depression, I can see why there is reason to think there is a link, but only is this shit world we’ve built for ourselves.