A new study – published in the journal Intelligence, and led by the University of Edinburgh – wished to find links between intelligence in youth and later mid-life behaviors, if any. As it turns out, there are quite a few, but in general, “higher IQ was associated with a range of healthier behaviors in mid-life,” the authors conclude – but, of course, it’s not quite as simple as that.
The study involved 5,347 American men and women from a range of ethnicities and backgrounds. Back when they were aged 15 to 23, they took an IQ test, the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). When they were middle-aged (just over 50), they provided self-reports on their exercise regimen, their diet, if they smoked, drank, and how their oral health was.
When looking for any connections and correlations, the team made sure to adjust for their childhood and adult socioeconomic status, which can certainly skew the lifestyle choices that people make. So what did they find?
There were indeed some healthy behaviors linked to higher IQ: these people tended to engage in strength training more (and exercise more in general), which is linked to better heart health. They were less likely to consume sugary drinks, less likely to drink alcohol heavily, and less likely to smoke. They flossed more, and were more likely to read nutritional information on packaging.
At the same time, those with higher IQs were more likely to drink than those with average IQs. Those with low IQs were also more likely to drink, although as pointed out by the American Council on Science and Health, drinking patterns (moderate versus binge, for high to low IQs) may vary. Either way, those with average intelligence tended to drink the least.
It’s an interesting profile for sure, and there’s something comforting about the fact that high-IQ people are more likely to drink more too. It’s worth pointing out that this is a single study, though, and plenty of others have found differing results.
The team explain that, for example, other “studies that examined the association between early-life intelligence and alcohol consumption in middle age have found mixed results.”
IQ, additionally, approximately measures someone’s visual-spatial and perhaps auditory processing abilities, their processing speed, and their short-term memory. It’s useful but flawed because – among other things – it fails to ascertain a person’s full spectrum of intelligence.
Curiosity, for example, is not measured in any variety of IQ tests; similarly, social and emotional intelligence aren’t determined either. Someone’s practical intelligence is also not looked into by these examinations.
Perhaps most importantly, IQ tests don’t take into account the person’s personal circumstances – their socio-economic background, their educational access, the opportunities they have (or lack) that allow (or prohibit) them from translating smarts into success, and so on.
That’s not to say that this paper isn’t worth reading into, of course. It’s a fascinating look into correlations between those with high or low IQs and the choices they make in life, and to be fair socio-economic status is taken into consideration by the team.
Nevertheless, the key points here are these: as ever, adopting the lifestyle changes won’t make you more or less intelligent. Additionally, if you already do these things, it doesn't mean you're automatically intelligent. More importantly, though, IQ is just one measure of intelligence; we’re sure the lifestyles of those with high emotional intelligence, and those from a wider range of countries and backgrounds, have insightful, idiosyncratic lifestyle choices too.