Any worrier will tell you that there's nothing more anxiety-producing than being told "not to worry so much." Now, there's a good reason to ignore that advice. According to new research, those who tend to get apprehensive may be savvier in unexpected ways.
The study, published online in October in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, investigated the relationship between verbal intelligence and disorders such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and depression. The researchers surveyed 126 undergraduates about their worrying habits, which often underly those disorders. Participants also completed a verbal-intelligence questionnaire that assessed their basic comprehension levels as well as the degree to which they could use their working memory.
The results showed that participants with better verbal-intelligence scores worried more often (and more intensely). The researchers suggest that worriers may remember past events of their lives with greater detail, causing more anguish and distress. This lines up with theories that suggest anxiety and depression could stem from differences in the ways people allocate their attentions and memories — meaning some of us focus more on times when things went wrong.
Interestingly, previous research has associated anxiety and depression with lower intelligence scores. But, as the current study authors point out, those experiments may not have accounted for the state of their participants at the time of testing. After all, someone who is currently feeling anxious may perform differently from a person who would describe herself as generally anxious, but who isn't in the middle of a heightened anxiety episode.
It's important to remember with studies like these that correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation, and that self-reported data isn't the most reliable. Still, score one for the stressed-out.