In this video, the Science of Us talks about the interesting side of a difficult psychological ailment: Anxiety.
For some of us we’ve either known, -or been someone who is way too reactive or neurotic to potential-threats; or even imagined-ones.
Well in nature’s endearingly-odd way, it turns out there is very likely an upside to this analysis-paralysis.
And it starts with Greater Connections…
The Brain’s 2 Shades Of Gray
So: In-general, there are two types of wires in the brain. -White Matter & Gray Matter.
You may have only heard about the latter & think that it’s the only stuff that well, ~”matters” (excuse the pun).
Well, it’s not. For lack of a better metaphor, gray matter is like the farm of supercomputers.
And the white matter is like the high-speed switches & network cables that connect them all together.
Which Is Better?
The first stuff may appear better & more important, but then how does it talk more quickly & efficiently to all the other bits?
(on a side-note, it turns out liars and improvisers of all types have noticeably more white matter than other people, too.)
And the other big correlation white matter has & the point of this piece is: Intelligence.
White Matter Matters For IQ
More than one study has shown that people afflicted with Anxiety, who were either mother nature’s hawkish-lookout characters, or the flighty-easily-spooked types with an exaggerated threat-response, Also turned-out to be more intelligent on-balance than the average person.
It would seem that the survival-advantage conferred by a hyper “Spidey-Sense” was passed down by descendants of those who actually ran first, asked questions later & thus: survived to pass down their genes.
Anxiety Requires More Brain Horsepower
At this point, you could get all chicken-and-egg, but it turns out all this hyper-awareness & sensitivity comes with both inherited costs & potentially-learnable benefits.
It takes an extra amount of brain-horsepower to be that alert, detail-oriented & then planning based on those details.
-Which comes in the form of the type of tissue that helps put all those different details, memories, and current perceptions into a +/- cohesive run-away plan: Noticeably-higher amounts of white-matter.
And of-course as hinted at before, the cost of this today is at least increases in both General and Social Anxiety.
What Can An Average Person Take Away From This?
Now, with respect to self-improvement and Elizabeth Gould’s proven recipe for brain-growth, 2 things:
1) It would be interesting to test the opposite-case. Look down the smart-people end of the spectrum & see if they’re all more anxious than the average population.
And 2) The part that matters for us: Can we become a little-bit smarter?
-For example, by becoming increasingly-obsessed with the details, can we effectively run the machine in reverse?
Can You Increase Your Own White Matter + Intelligence By Healthy “Obsessing”?
What if you could slowly get better at noticing increasing amounts of detail, baby-steps at a time through studying things that interest you, until the point where you’re almost as aware & mentally-active as a pathologically-anxious person.
-Just a better-balanced version of one.
Would it be possible to increase your white-matter, your interconnectedness, and thus your intelligence by doing so?
-At least a few studies on 3D video-games that require attention-to-detail seem to suggest something like that.
Food for thought.
And if you’re already anxious, you may have the advantage of being a more detail-oriented and intelligent person.
Check out the further details out at the Links:
Video, “How Anxiety Can Make You Smarter: “The Science of Us” Episode 14″, by NYMag’s The Science of Us
Photo, “I did! I did taw a puddy tat!”, by broterham
• Source: NyMag-SciOfUs-Anxiety
• More Coverage: Slate | PsychCentral
• Source Studies:
• CogSci-Thinking too much: self-generated thought as the engine of neuroticism
• PERS-Intelligence and emotional disorders: Is the worrying and ruminating mind a more intelligent mind?”
• Isr J.Psych-Social Cognition in Social Anxiety: First Evidence
for Increased Empathic Abilities[PDF]