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On the brain: Binge drinking and intelligence
December 8th, 2010
05:00 PM ET

On the brain: Binge drinking and intelligence

A lot of fascinating discussions about what's going on in your brain - such as the implications of binge drinking, the rise of depression, and the symptoms of concussions - are bubbling this week.

Do intelligent people drink more?

A blog post in Psychology Today claiming that more intelligent people are more likely to binge drink has met with some heated reaction. The author Satoshi Kanazawa wrote in October that "more intelligent children, both in the United Kingdom and the United States, grow up to consume alcohol more frequently and in greater quantities than less intelligent children." The basis of this argument: Data showing correlations between intelligence and drinking.

His explanation is that alcohol consumption is relatively recent in human history, and intelligent creatures seek evolutionarily novel stimuli. In fact, that was also the rationale behind a highly controversial study from earlier this year suggesting that higher IQ is linked to liberalism, atheism, and male sexual exclusivity.

Kanazawa's blog post has come under fire in the Huffington Post and an even more scathing critique in Psychology Today. Psychologist Stanton Peele points out in the Huffington Post that college graduates are the "most likely to drink but the least likely to binge drink," according to a government survey he cites. Education is not the same as intelligence, but the two tend to be associated, he said. And, moderate drinking has been associated with health benefits such as lower cardiovascular risk.

As to whether evolutionary psychology as a whole is "dangerous bull--," as Peele suggests, is perhaps not so clear-cut.

Cleaner, but more depressed

It's no secret that depression is on the rise in America, and one possible explanation is that we're just too clean. Dr. Charles Raison, Emory University psychiatrist and CNNHealth Mental Health Expert, says that our ramped-up hygiene may be getting rid of bacteria that we need to fight inflammation, which can lead to depression. Raison and colleagues wrote about this in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Allergists have also speculated that our society's over-cleanliness has led to a rise in food allergies. Does this mean exposure to outcast microorganisms would help? That remains to be seen.

Not just a head bump

Drowsiness in a high school female athlete may not be a sign of sleep deprivation - it could be a concussion. A study in the Journal of Athletic Training shows that boys and girls say they have distinct symptoms of concussion, Time reports. For the high school guys, concussion symptoms include amnesia and disorientation.

Dentist the menace

If you're terrified of the dentist, you're not alone. A large study of England, Wales and Northern Ireland found that 19 percent of women, but only 10 percent of men, have extreme anxiety when going to the dentist, according to the BBC. If you have a serious fear of getting your teeth fixed and want support, check out Dental Fear Central.

More than luck

Are you destined to get ahead? Making good financial decisions, or doing well at gambling, may come from genetics. You might be getting lucky in the market because of the "warrior gene," which influences how good you are at maximizing value from such decisions, according to a new study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Nature reports. Apparently, those with the genetic variant MAOA-L make risky calls about 41 percent of the time, but are good at ruling out bad choices. Of course, this is a small and preliminary study in this area. MAOA is called the "warrior gene" because it has been linked to aggression in the past.


soundoff (109 Responses)
  1. teach

    Most studies that attempt to categorize people are irritating. I certainly consider myself intelligent (college professor pursuing my Ph.D), but I do not drink at all. I enjoy the clarity of mind I maintain by not drowning myself in various substances.

    December 9, 2010 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. RadTech01

    We drink more so we can deal with all the idiots.

    December 9, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. hecep

    Whaa? Ovvv coursssh not. **hic**

    signed Dr. I. M. Smart PhD.

    December 9, 2010 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Morty

    I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning that's as good as they're going to feel all day. FS

    December 9, 2010 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • teach

      Whereas I feel sorry for those who need mind-altering substances to feel good. It's amazing how many things make me feel good that don't involve trashing my body.

      December 9, 2010 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
    • ME

      Exactly teach! I always say I'd rather enjoy a nice hike in the woods or a good book than a "party."

      December 9, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse |
  5. ME

    I come from a family of high IQ individuals–at least 145 for those of us who've been tested. Oddly enough, alcoholism does run in this branch of my family. I personally do not drink much because my main "talent" is my high IQ and I want to be in charge of my brain, but I am the only one who is not a heavy drinker.

    IMO, there could be a potential correlation between drinking and IQ. I've certainly seen quite a bit of drinking at Mensa events! (Of course I've seen quite a few morons who drink as well.) I suspect that any correlation would not be because of the high IQ, but rather the issues that come with it. Many people with exceptional IQs have felt a sense of isolation from "normal" people. In fact, many of us have been harassed for having higher intelligence. "Normal" people can become very defensive and aggressive when they realize that someone might be intellectually superior. Furthermore, there is a tendency to be more introverted and to have more Asperger like symptoms. I can see where people with such issues might turn to alcohol for self-soothing or to "loosen up."

    The following quote started to annoy me: "Psychologist Stanton Peele points out in the Huffington Post that college graduates are the 'most likely to drink but the least likely to binge drink,' according to a government survey he cites."

    I am relieved that they followed it up with this disclaimer, "Education is not the same as intelligence, but the two tend to be associated, he said." I know many people with genius level IQs but no formal education. On the other hand, I have met "educated" people with rather low IQs–people I would consider relatively retarded. I completely ignore any study of "intelligence" that sorts by education rather than actual IQ!

    December 9, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tom

    "A mind the caliber of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows." - George Bernard Shaw

    December 9, 2010 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. CommanderBill

    The more I think, the more I know the more I drink. Ignorance is bliss on its own accord.

    December 9, 2010 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Papo

    The stimuli listed in this article seems more popular amongst those who want to LOOK LIKE they are intelligent.

    December 9, 2010 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. CC Croft

    By IQ tests, my mother and I are both well above average. My mother drinks and gets drunk, I drink a couple times a month and have never been drunk (and sometimes go months without any alcohol). I have severe control issues so the feeling of being drunk and, thusly, less in control, are not appealing. The feel of the alcohol and the fact that one or two can be relaxing is pleasant. It can help me feel calmer.

    People with high intelligence also have high instances of mental disorders (depression, anxiety etc), alcohol can be a very easy way to self medicate.

    December 9, 2010 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Mel

    Unfortunately, coaches and teachers are not given enough training to recognize concussion symptoms.

    December 9, 2010 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. zach

    Its about money the more educated someone is, the more they make, so they can spend more on liquor.

    December 9, 2010 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. CleanLiving87

    Smart people may drink more as a reward to their success! I remember in college, many of my dorm mates would drink excessively after a huge final or midterm. http://bit.ly/etsOSQ

    December 9, 2010 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. FirstAve

    Come drink in Wisconsin, and you will find out what drinking is.

    December 9, 2010 at 20:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Richard

    The claim that intelligent people are more likely to binge drink is made by Dr Satoshi Kanazawa. Among certain academic circles, he is known as the "great idiot" of social science.

    Here are some of the other claims that Dr Kanazawa has made based on his "research":
    1. Attractive couples are more likely to have boys.
    2. The poor health of people in sub-saharan Africa is due to their lower IQ and not poverty.

    Just saying.

    December 9, 2010 at 21:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Hmmmm

    By reading the posts here, I conclude that drinkers may be both intelligent and stupid and the non-drinkers are simply judgemental and sanctimonious.

    December 10, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. InMost Interesting man in the world

    When I drink Beer I usually drink a dos equis

    December 16, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. brett

    From my experience drug addicts are very intelligent people. Alcoholics? Not so much.
    And for the most part I am talking about recovering addicts & alcoholics, though there are exceptions.

    December 16, 2010 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. THOMAS

    Lets see, oh another study that tells Americans how you are not as special as other who were born right. That really makes me feel good about myself.

    December 18, 2010 at 20:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Mike Archbold

    I think somebody hit the nail on the head by saying this type of study is "bull--".

    December 30, 2010 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Joe

    My own experience (from living in Australia, a nation of alcoholics) is the opposite. For every 1 smart binge drinker / alcoholic there are 100+ retarded alcoholics. Despite saying that, I also know plenty of retarded people who don't drink. Obviously there is no definitive answer to questions like these.

    However, I do agree with what Brett has said above, just through my own personal encounters drug users tend to be more intelligent on average than binge drinkers. In the end I have no way of proving this but it's just a trend that I've noticed through my own experiences and chatting to people etc.

    Also, I find it funny how certain people can read articles like these and think they're intelligent. Unfortunately we're living in a world where THE BELOW LINK would apply to the majority of people.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

    February 16, 2012 at 20:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 25, 2013 at 04:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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