Are people with a higher intelligence more prone to developing bipolar disorder? Does this condition affect your cognitive functions and IQ?

Though the research is limited, some studies suggest a preliminary link between bipolar disorder and above-average intelligence and creativity.

Is it possible that highly intelligent children have a higher chance of developing bipolar disorder? And once they do, would the disorder impact their intelligence?

Bipolar disorder at a glance

  • An estimated 4.4% of U.S. adults experience the onset of bipolar disorder at some point in their lives.
  • Nearly 83% of those with bipolar disorder report it causes “significant impairment” to their daily life.
  • The average age of bipolar disorder onset is 25 years old.
  • Bipolar disorder can also manifest in children and teens.
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Bipolar disorder is a neurocognitive condition characterized by changes in mood, particularly between episodes of mania and depression.

The most common types are bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder.

You can learn about the difference between the two types here.

Some research suggests that those with bipolar disorder may indeed be more likely to have above-average intelligence and creativity, although a causal relationship hasn’t been established yet.

These IQ measurements have typically been done before the onset of bipolar disorder. In other words, it seems many people who have bipolar disorder had a higher-than-average intelligence before presenting symptoms of the condition.

So, does this mean people with high intelligence are more prone to bipolar disorder? Evidence is inconclusive but suggests there may be a link.

An older Swedish study found that straight-A students were nearly four times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder when they reached adulthood. This was particularly so for males.

However, the same study found that some of the students with the lowest academic grades also showed increased chances of the condition.

When looking at all the contributing factors, though, researchers concluded that exceptional intelligence was indeed linked to the prevalence of bipolar disorder.

A later cohort study with a million Swedish army men also found an association between an increased chance of bipolar disorder and earlier scores of high intelligence, particularly in the verbal and technical ability aspects.

In the study, participants around age 18 received an IQ score. They were then monitored for more than 22 years.

Researchers found that there were more bipolar disorder diagnoses among the men who had received a higher IQ score and didn’t have any other mental health conditions.

In another cohort study from 2015, U.K. researchers found that a higher childhood IQ score — particularly in the verbal aspects — increased the chances of a bipolar disorder diagnosis later in life.

These findings also supported previous research that found an association between a higher chance of developing the condition and verbal proficiency in congenital twins.

A 2018 study with members of American MENSA also found that people with high intelligence were more likely to report symptoms of bipolar disorder when compared to the national average statistics.

What do we mean by ‘intelligence?’

  • IQ stands for intelligence quotient, which refers to a measure of someone’s ability to use logic, reason, and problem-solving abilities. This is also referred to as “general intelligence.” IQ is based on a standardized test.
  • Cognition or cognitive functioning broadly refers to our mind’s thinking processes. This includes the processes that perform language, memory, and learning, visual perception, information processing and more.

While cognitive skills can be practiced and sharpened, your IQ stays mostly the same your entire life. That’s because most IQ tests try to measure your intelligence potential, not your ability to memorize a lot of information.

It’s also important to note that traditional IQ tests may not be the only way to measure someone’s intellectual potential. In fact, IQ testing and scoring have a history of being controversial regarding sexism and racism.

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No, bipolar disorder doesn’t seem to impact your intelligence, but it can affect some aspects of your cognition.

As the table above explains, there’s a difference between cognition and intelligence. They’re related, though.

Cognition allows you to acquire information and understand events and surroundings. For example, memory, logic, and visual processing are examples of cognitive functions.

Intelligence refers more to the ability to learn something new, build associations between things you’ve learned, and process and adapt to new situations.

Episodes of mania and depression in bipolar disorder may lead to impairments in cognitive functions. These areoften temporary changes to your thinking or perceiving processes.

For example, a depressive episode may cause you to have trouble focusing on a task or remembering something. An episode of mania may impact your psychomotor skills, reasoning, and working memory. Sometimes, you may also experience psychosis.

But research shows that despite these neurocognitive impairments, intelligence in people with bipolar disorder is not impacted by the onset of the condition.

Although anecdotal information seems to link intelligence and bipolar disorder, there’s limited evidence regarding the topic.

According to research, males with higher IQ scores as well as children with higher intelligence and verbal proficiency seem to be more likely to develop bipolar disorder.

There’s no evidence that suggests bipolar disorder affects intelligence, on the other hand.

Some cognitive functions, such as reasoning and memory, may be affected by mood episodes of bipolar disorder. This means that, at least temporarily, you may experience some difficulty remembering information or solving problems during episodes of mania or depression.