Highly Intelligent Misfits

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Is it true that people who are highly intelligent have a more difficult time fitting in socially and don’t do as well in life as people with more average intelligence?
This is a very interesting question because we often think of the highly intelligent person as somewhat of a geek, however, there is no evidence to support the idea.
Possibly sparked by a bit of jealousy, it falls into the category of a myth, or urban legend. The most comprehensive study to date was conducted by Lewis Terman, the author of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. It was a longitudinal study of 1500 highly intelligent boys and girls (mostly between the ages of 8 and 12 when tested) living in California and tested by Lewis Terman in the 1920s.
Through the years, these highly intelligent individuals have been affectionately referred to as “Termites.” Terman studied them extensively and there have been many follow-up studies since.
The results of these studies strongly debunk the myth that highly intelligent people are somewhat socially challenged. Instead, these highly intelligent individuals did very well in life.
As children, they made better grades in school, and were considered more honest and trustworthy. In their mid-40s, the Termites were still found to be highly successful. About 70% had graduated from college, compared to 8 percent of their generation. Forty percent of the male graduates had earned law degrees, medical degrees, or Ph.D.s; and 85 percent were working as professionals, or as business managers. Their total family incomes were more than double that of others from their ethnic groups.
Due to the era in which that study was conducted, resulting in a reduced number of women in the workforce outside the home, it was difficult to make comparisons for women.
The Termites were found to be healthier than their more average peers. The professional literature indicates that people with higher intelligent tend to smoke less and take better care of themselves. The termites experienced similar rates of minor emotional problems as their more average peers, but had lower rates of alcoholism and criminal activity.
As of the last follow-up studies published, the Termites were still doing well.
A similar study was conducted in the 1940s and 1950s on 210 highly intelligent adults who had attended a school for the gifted in New York City. The findings were consistent with Terman’s. Over 80 percent had obtained at least a Master’s Degree, and their incomes were much higher than the national average. In that study, 40 percent of the women had earned a Ph.D., law degree, or medical degree, and 53 percent of both men and women were working in professional careers.
So, from all studies to date, the higher your IQ, the better you are likely to do in school and in life in general, and you will probably live longer.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]