I often groan when my friends invite me out on Saturday nights. It’s not that I’m antisocial or anything, it’s just that there aren’t many things more pleasurable than sitting in my bed and watching a movie while munching on snacks.

So I was pleasantly surprised to read about a new study from London School of Economics that says extremely intelligent people are happier when they spend less time with friends.

The study was done by evolutionary psychologists Satoshi Kanazawa and Norman Li. They relied on data from National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which interviewed 15,000 people between ages 18 and 28.

Three data points were gathered from each participant: scores on intelligence test, how often they socialized with their friends, and how satisfied they were with their lives.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that for most people, having more friends correlates positively with happiness. But it’s the opposite with people with high IQ.

You heard it right. Highly intelligent people are happier when they spend less time with friends.

🔬 Study Summary

IQ scores, socializing frequency, and happiness level were gathered from 15,000 people:

  • In general, people were happier when they socialize with more people.
  • But for highly intelligent people, they are happier when the socialize with fewer friends
  • Scientists think it may be explained by the “savanna theory of happiness”.

📰 Research paper: Country roads, take me home… to my friends: How intelligence, population density, and friendship affect modern happiness . Read full paper »

Scientists haven’t nailed down the exact cause for this discrepancy, but they proposed that the “savanna theory of happiness” may have something to do with it.

The savanna theory of happiness is an evolutionary theory based on the premise that the human social functions evolved to meet the demands of the life on the savannah – where food is scarce and group harmony is paramount.

In that environment, evolution weeds out those who don’t get along or who don’t socialize much with the group. On the other hand, anything that helps you become closer with your friends will be rewarded with a positive evolutionary feedback – in the form of hapiness.

“Our ancestors lived as hunter–gatherers in small bands of about 150 individuals,” Kanazawa and Li explain. “In such settings, having frequent contact with lifelong friends and allies was likely necessary for survival and reproduction for both sexes.”

However, that’s no longer true today. While we still have to rely on society at large to provide us necessities such as food, shelter, and transportation, keeping harmonious contact with everyone is no longer necessary for survival.

To put in another way, the modern human being is torn between how their brains are evolutionarily “designed” and how the brain handles today’s reality.

For most, the evolutionary reward cycle is well and alive, rewarding the brain for seeking stimulation and comfort among friends and acquaintances. But for individuals with higher intelligence, their brains are more capable of handling the mismatch between their brain and modern realities.

“More intelligent individuals, who possess higher levels of general intelligence and thus greater ability to solve evolutionarily novel problems, may face less difficulty in comprehending and dealing with evolutionarily novel entities and situations,” Kanazawa and Li write.