Saturday, March 31, 2007

Intelligence and mental illness: Let's examine the old idea that smart people are more likely to have mental problems. Nietzsche went crazy, right--among others? The GSS asked people if they have ever had a mental illness, and here are their mean IQs:

Mean IQs--Whites

Mental illness 109.9
No mental illness 101.3

Mean IQs--Blacks

Mental Illness 100.1
No mental illness 94.4

For blacks and whites, those reporting having had a mental illness have higher average IQs. Once again, the data presented on this blog have a way of supporting stereotypes. Now, some will inevitably claim that smart people will admit their illness while less intelligent people won't, but you must admit the differences are quite large.


  1. Now, some will inevitably claim that smart people will admit their illness while less intelligent people won't

    I don't think you should be so dismissive of that idea. It's not just that they'd be more likely to admit it to the survey taker, but are much more likely to seek help and be diagnosed in the first place for lesser mental illnesses like depression and anxiety which aren't severe.

  2. Anonymous10:35 AM

    Nietzsche went crazy because he got syphillus. So, his case does not count.

    Anyways, maybe smarter people really do go crazy more often because they have more to think about. Maybe they go crazy because higher intelligence is associated with greater "fragility". If this is the case, there is likely an ultimate limit to how far we can increase our IQs (like in transhumanism). Does this also suggest that when we make AIs, like Kurzweil's AIs, that they also will have a tendency to go off the deep end?

  3. Anonymous2:15 PM

    I heartily agree with jewish atheist. More intelligent people are undoubtedly more introspective and attuned to the vagaries of their mental lives than the less intelligent. While it takes no nous to diagnose a broken arm and seek treatment, mental illnesses (especially mild ones) are rather subtler.

    I do know that in Britain, the so-called Afro-Carribean community contributes a disproportionate number of the nation's schizophrenics and severely mentally ill.

  4. Anonymous6:02 PM

    A diagnosis of mental illness is also the short route to legal drugs. This may also bias the results, as smarter people may be more likely to take this detour. A diagnosis of "depression", for example, opens up a veritable pharmacy of opportunity with little stigma. And one's insurance picks up the bill in most cases.

    What we need is a measure of how IQ correlates with one or more objectively measurable mental illness(es) - unlike depression, which is usually measured on a self assessment scale. For example, the "Madness of King Geroge" was likely the result of a condition known as porphyria. Porphyria is a condition often characterized by purple urine, something that would be hard to fudge and easy to measure.

  5. tex:

    I take an SSRI (zoloft) and it's not something one would want unless he needed it. Sexual side effects, etc. It's not fun like recreational drugs (so I hear.)

  6. Anonymous8:43 PM

    "I take an SSRI (zoloft) and it's not something one would want unless he needed it."

    I am not saying that depression has no biological basis, or that all treatment of depression is recreational. Just as not everyone who is actually depressed is diagnosed with depression, not everyone who is diagnosed with depression is actually depressed. People with a diagnosis and without actual depression can get meds - legally. People with actual depression and without a diagnosis can self-medicate - which either may or may not be legal.

    People with higher IQs may more readily navigate their way through this maze and into a doctor's office.

    Put it this way, were all drugs legal, I suspect there would be fewer people who would be willing to call themselves "mentally ill".

    Using a more objectively identifiable mental illness such as porphyria would allow us to step outside this legal-definitional haze.

  7. tex:

    I don't disagree with anything you said. I'm just pointing out that in terms of SSRIs (and MAOIs, which were worse) there's just no motive. It's not like being a pain patient where you can get OxyContin or whatever.

    Tons of depressed people self-medicate with alcohol, tobacco, sugar, marijuana, etc., of course. Whether those "medications" help as much as SSRIs is doubtful, though. (Talk therapy and exercise work pretty well.)

  8. Anonymous5:48 AM


    Yeah, but to reiterate JA's point, the most common medications they will put you on for depression are SSRIs, and they don't do anything except a) lift your depression if you are depressed b) alleviate your OCD symptoms if you have OCD and c) make you kind of impotent. So there's no point in faking depression just to get your hands on some prozac. Unless you're a closet homosexual looking for an excuse to fail in the bedroom. (Hmmmm... I should have thought of that.)

    I could see people faking anxiety to get Xanax, or faking chronic pain to get perkoset (mmmmm.... perkoset...) or even faking ADD to get dexedrine--an amphetamine which allows ADDers like myself to focus (I didn't say I WASN'T crazy, just that Jews are...) but gives non-ADDers a speedy high. But faking depression is stupid.

    I guess I'm saying you have a point for some mental illnesses, but not really for depression.

  9. Anonymous8:37 AM

    all mental illnesses aren't created equal

    i think this should be looked at more specifically, IQ by TYPE of mental illness reported.

    anxiety, depression and asperger's type, non-neurotypical social problems seem likely to attend higher IQs while sociopathy and psychopathy would seem to attend lower IQS

    but i don't have stats to back that up

  10. Anonymous8:53 AM

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  11. Anonymous1:48 PM

    Let's not get distracted from the gist of the post: IQ and mental illness. We are trying to asses the association between these two factors in a manner that avoids confounding variables.

    The boundaries of some mental illnesses are very hazy (e.g., "depression" and "anxiety"). The boundaries of other conditions are far less so (e.g., porphyria). Using the second kind of illness rather than first would provide us with a cleaner look at the association between IQ and mental illness because the second kind reduces the bias of self selection.

    Given the strong association that appears in the unregressed data, it is likely that there either really is a positive association (not just an artifact of self selection) or no association. It is unlikely that the association is actually negative.

  12. Anon: At least two reasons: the total IQ was set at 100 when it souhld have been set at around 97--the mean for all Americans; and 2) I believe the verbal black/white gap is smaller than with other indicators of intelligence.

  13. Anonymous7:52 AM

    I recall having seen a study somewhere showing that incidence mental illness is actually INVERSELY proportional to IQ (meaning that lower IQ people have fewer mental illnesses), although there is evidently some indication that this trend breaks down at the very high IQ levels, who actually do have a high incidence of mental illness.

  14. Anonymous3:31 PM

    I believe Einstein's eldest son developed schizophrenia.

  15. Anonymous8:21 PM

    Self assessments are prone to fabrications. The incidence of schizophrenia among high IQ individuals would be an interesting study.

  16. Anonymous6:46 PM

    As I recall, wasn't there quite a bit of social science research showing higher IQ was associated with lower incidence of mental problems? Not saying that social scientists haven't lied before but not sure why they would about this...

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