When intelligence hurts and ignorance is bliss: Global pandemic as an evolutionarily novel threat to happiness

Satoshi Kanazawa*, Norman P. Li, Jose C. Yong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Introduction: The savanna theory of happiness posits that it is not only the current consequences of a given situation that affect happiness but also its ancestral consequences, and that the effect of ancestral consequences on happiness is stronger among less intelligent individuals. But what about situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment and thus have no ancestral consequences? Global pandemic is one such situation that has no ancestral analog, and the theory predicts such evolutionarily novel threats to have a negative effect disproportionately on the life satisfaction of more intelligent individuals. 

Methods: We analyzed prospectively longitudinal data from population samples from the National Child Development Study (Study 1) and the British Cohort Study (Study 2). 

Results: Consistent with the theoretical prediction, while more intelligent individuals were generally more satisfied with their lives than less intelligent individuals were throughout adulthood (albeit not because they were more intelligent but because they earned more money, were more likely to be married, and healthier), more intelligent individuals were less satisfied with their lives during the COVID-19 global pandemic because they were more intelligent. 

Conclusion: Higher intelligence may have a downside in the modern world, by allowing life satisfaction to be more vulnerable from being better able to comprehend the severity of problems that did not exist in the ancestral world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Personality
Early online date25 Feb 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Feb 2022


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