Chronic worriers tend to have a higher-than-average verbal IQ (intelligence quotient), according to new research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. However, those who specifically tend to ruminate on past negative social events are also more likely to have a lower-than-average non-verbal IQ.
For the study, researcher Alexander Penney, Ph.D., of Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues gave a survey to more than 100 students. They asked the students to report their levels of worry, anxiety, depression, rumination, social phobia, dwelling on past social events, mood, verbal intelligence, non-verbal intelligence, and test anxiety.
This last factor, test anxiety, was important because the researchers wanted to distinguish trait anxiety from in-the-moment state anxiety and how each relates to intelligence.
Overall, the researchers found that students who reported a general habit of worrying more (e.g. they agreed with survey statements like “I am always worrying about something”) and/or ruminating more (e.g. they tended to think about their sadness, or think “what am doing to deserve this?”) also tended to score higher on the test of verbal intelligence, part of the well-known Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. This was after controlling for the influence of test anxiety and current mood.
Worrying, along with levels of rumination, mood and test anxiety, verbal intelligence explained an estimated 46 percent of the difference in worry.
Another interesting finding of the study, not so promising for worriers, was that a tendency to dwell on past social events was linked to a lower score on non-verbal tests of IQ.
In an effort to explain these two seemingly contradictory correlations, the researchers concluded that “more verbally intelligent individuals are able to consider past and future events in greater detail, leading to more intense rumination and worry.
Individuals with high non-verbal intelligence may be stronger at processing the non-verbal signals they interact with in the moment, leading to a decreased need to re-process past social encounters.”
Another 2012 study had very similar findings in a small sample of participants diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. The current researchers noted that “a worrying and ruminating mind is a more verbally intelligent mind; a socially ruminative mind, however, might be less able to process non-verbal information.”