When it comes to trusting others, intelligent people are more likely to give the benefit of the doubt, while those who score lower on IQ tests are more likely to have trust issues, according to a new study by Oxford University.
The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, are based on an analysis of the General Social Survey — a nationally representative public opinion survey given every one to two years.
“Intelligence is shown to be linked with trusting others, even after taking into account factors like marital status, education, and income,” said lead author Noah Carl, doctoral student in the Department of Sociology.
Researchers offer a few explanations for why this might be: Perhaps intelligent people are better at judging character and therefore tend to form relationships with more trustworthy people. Or it could be that intelligent people are better at analyzing shady situations, and are more aware when there is a strong incentive for the other person not to meet their side of the deal.
“This finding supports what other researchers have argued, namely that being a good judge of character is a distinct part of human intelligence which evolved through natural selection,” said Carl. “However, there are other possible interpretations of the evidence, and further research is needed to disentangle them.”
The research supports the previous findings of studies on trust and intelligence from European countries. The authors say the research is significant because social trust is vital to the success of social institutions — such as welfare systems and financial markets. Furthermore, research shows that individuals who trust others tend to enjoy better health and greater happiness.
“People who trust others seem to report better health and greater happiness,” said Professor Francesco Billari, Ph.D., also from the Department of Sociology.
“The study of social trust therefore has wider implications in public health, governmental policy and private charity, and there are good reasons to think that governments, religious groups, and other civic organizations should try to cultivate more trust in society. Social trust has become an increasingly important topic for academics, who want to understand the causes of better health and greater happiness within society.”
Source: University of Oxford