Under the Hood

A Silver Lining To Worrying: Rumination Linked To Higher Verbal Intelligence

Worrying
People who tend to worry may dwell on their troubles too much, but there's a silver lining: They have higher levels of verbal intelligence. Joe Sampouw, CC BY 2.0

Ruminating, the act of thinking about situations over and over again, has rightly been linked to health problems. There’s nothing we get out of worrying about whether we made the right choices, said the right things — or worse, the wrong things — yet many people continue to do so, as if thinking about it justifies what happened. But even as ruminating leads people down a rabbit hole of stress, there’s a silver lining: Worrying about stuff could be a sign of higher verbal intelligence.

Verbal intelligence (also called linguistic intelligence) is rooted in problem solving, critical thinking, and abstract reasoning. These tools give a person the ability to communicate effectively through both speech and writing, with the intent of achieving a certain goal. It’s easy to see how a person who ruminates can have high verbal intelligence; after all, they’re always thinking of various ways — and likely the most effective one — to get their point across. This intelligence, then, comes as a result of thinking about past situations in different scenarios.

In a study to be published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers from Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, found that “verbal intelligence was a unique positive predictor of worry and rumination,” and was even weakly correlated with rumination’s effects — generalized anxiety and depression. On the other hand, a tendency to ruminate was also correlated with lower levels of nonverbal intelligence, which is based more on living in the moment, as these types of people pick up on nonverbal cues better.

“It is possible that more verbally intelligent individuals are able to consider past and future events in greater detail, leading to more intense rumination and worry,” the researchers said, according to the Daily Mail. “Individuals with higher nonverbal intelligence may be stronger at processing nonverbal signals from individuals they interact with in the moment, leading to a decreased need to reprocess past social encounters.”

For the study, the researchers had 126 undergraduate students respond to a number of surveys and questionnaires about levels of stress, anxiety, worry, depression, social phobia, rumination, mood, verbal and nonverbal intelligence, and test anxiety. By measuring for test anxiety, they were also able to determine whether a person became anxious only in the moment, or if it was an ingrained trait, PsychCentral reported. Worrying was correlated to verbal intelligence, as shown by an inclination to agree with statements like “I am always worrying about something,” and, when thinking about their sadness, “What am I doing to deserve this?”

It’s quite a silver lining, allowing people to communicate their wants more effectively the next time a situation arises. However, it’s still important to balance ruminating with letting things go in order to prevent health problems from developing. These problems not only include depression and anxiety but also a weaker immune system, which then makes a person susceptible to infectious diseases as well as more chronic ones, such as heart disease. In other words, choosing your battles might lead to good verbal intelligence just as much as happiness.

Source: Penney A, Miedema V, Mazmanian D. Intelligence and emotional disorders: Is the worrying and ruminating mind a more intelligent mind? Personality and Individual Differences. 2014. 

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