“Faulty Inferencing” Is The Reason Highly Intelligent People Are Often Very Anxious
Intelligence puts you at high risk for this psychological bias.
If you’re familiar with body typing, you’ll probably be familiar with the terms endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph. Though everyone actually falls somewhere within the spectrum of these (meaning that everyone has varying degrees of each) the traits you default to are typically your primary body type.
If you’ve studied these types, you’ll know that endomorphic bodies are often associated with increased fat retention. The assumption here is that these people have the worst metabolisms, but that is false. Endomorphs actually have the best metabolisms of anyone. They are alive today because their ancestors adequately adapted to survive. Their metabolisms do precisely what they were intended to do: store fat for later use.
Something similar happens with highly intelligent people who experience high levels of anxiety. You assume that because these people are smart, they would be able to use logic to disrupt illogical fears. (Logic lapses, or an inability to adequately reason, often generate anxiety.)
However, their brains are doing exactly what they were meant to do, which is to piece together unrelated stimuli and identify potential threats.
Highly intelligent people have a psychological function others do not, which is the ability to infer. They can extract meaning and understanding from things that others simply take at face value. This is why people who have extremely high IQs often struggle with basic things, such as social skills, or driving a car. Where others see the world as one dimensional, the highly intelligent see it as three dimensional. They think more deeply than is often necessary. This gives them their ability to create, understand, strategize and invent.
In the same way that endomorph’s excellent metabolism can work against them, so too can a highly intelligent person’s brain. This is because at times, they make something called “faulty inferences,” which are when fallacies, biases and incorrect assumptions are made from valid evidence.
What’s happening in your brain when you’re really anxious is that you’re taking an often innocuous stimuli and extracting some kind of meaning or prediction from it. When you’re scared, your brain is working in overdrive to identify the thing that can potentially hurt you, and then creatively come up with ways to completely avoid that experience. The smarter you are, the better you become at this.
However, the more you avoid a fear, the more intense it becomes.
What’s a faulty inference?
A faulty inference is when you come up with a false conclusion based on valid evidence.
This means that what you’re seeing, experiencing or understanding might be real, but the assumptions that you are piecing together from it are either not, or are highly unlikely.
One example is a hasty generalization, which is when you make a claim about an entire group of people based on one or two experiences you’ve had. This is the bias at the base of a lot of racism and prejudice. Another example is post hoc ergo propter hoc, which is what happens when you assume that because two things happened around the same time, they must be related, even if they aren’t.
A false dichotomy happens when you assume that there are only two possibilities that could be valid, when in reality, there are far more that you simply aren’t aware of. An example of this is when your boss calls you to a private meeting, and you assume you must either be getting a promotion, or getting fired. A slippery slope, to play off of that example, is another false inference in which you assume that one event will set off a series of others, even if they certainly will not.
These are just some of the myriad of ways your brain can, in a sense, betray you. Though it intends to keep you alert and aware, sometimes, the threat becomes over-inflated, and unable to decipher the difference, your body responds regardless.
How do I correct this?
Correcting faulty inferencing begins with first being aware that you’re doing it. In the majority of cases, once you realize that you’re thinking in a false dichotomy, or making a hasty generalization, you stop doing it. You understand what it is, and you let it go.
Training your brain to stop doing it automatically takes time. Think of your mind like a search engine that auto-fills your terms. If it’s something you’ve input many times over the years, it’s still going to come up for a while. You have to work on consistently adding new thoughts, options and stimuli in order to shift what it comes up with naturally.
This is not only possible, it’s inevitable. What you consistently do is what you adapt to. Your brain will start to reorient your comfort zone, and eventually, it will feel as natural to think logically as it once did to think dramatically, it will feel as natural to be calm as it does now to feel anxious. It takes awareness, and it takes time. But it is always possible.