"Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life." — Steve Jobs
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that a relationship exists between intelligence and drug use. Some of the greatest thinkers, artists, and musicians openly used illegal substances. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both admitted to taking LSD in their youth, and Sigmund Freud and Thomas Edison were avid cocaine users.
Now there is mounting scientific evidence of a correlation between genius and getting high as well.
Using data from the 1958 National Child Development Study, researchers published a report last year (PDF) that found children with higher IQs were more likely to use illegal drugs later in life. The study surveyed 17,416 people, expanding on 2011 findings that also indicated that smarter children were significantly more likely than those with lower IQs to use drugs as teens or young adults.
So why do smart kids end up using drugs? James White, the 2011 study's lead author, believes it has to do with educated decision-making. Research shows that children with higher IQs are more likely to eat well and lead active lifestyles, and less likely to smoke cigarettes — all based on an educated perspective on health. Since people of higher intelligence tend to base their decisions on evidence, White suggests they are inclined to experiment from time to time with drugs because there is limited data on the damaging effects of occasional drug use.
With smoking, the evidence [about its dangers] is overwhelming, whereas when you look at things like cannabis use, since they are more likely to associate with people who are similar to them, they are likely to see that smoking cannabis relatively infrequently doesn't have huge impact.
The likely mechanism is openness to experience and, I think, it's also this idea of having an educated view of risk as well. [TIME]
Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa posits a different explanation, arguing that it's the evolutionary impulse toward novelty that leads to drug use. He bases his theory on The Savanna Principle, the psychological theory that it is difficult for the human brain to comprehend and deal with situations that didn't exist in the ancestral environment. Kanazawa argues that intelligent people thrive in new environments and are more capable of dealing with new situations, which would explain their impulse to interact with new things — in this case, controlled substances. Kanazawa argues the same principle can be used to explain why intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be heavy drinkers.
"The Hypothesis would therefore predict that more intelligent individuals may be more likely to prefer drinking modern alcoholic beverages…than less intelligent individuals, because the substance and the method of consumption are both evolutionarily novel." [Psychology Today]
A third hypothesis suggests that gifted children simply fit the profile of drug users. Highly intelligent kids tend to suffer more from social isolation and boredom, which can lead them to seek out new experiences and tools to cope with being different.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- If a nuclear bomb exploded in downtown Washington, what should you do?
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- There's a number of reasons the grammar of this headline could infuriate you
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- How to be more satisfied with your life, according to science
- How to flirt, according to science
- The contentious policy at the heart of Cliven Bundy's armed standoff with the government
- The Warren Buffett formula: How you can get smarter
- This Japanese toilet should make Americans very worried
Subscribe to the Week