In general, we think of anxiety as a negative thing — that looming cloud over our heads that makes us worry even when we can't necessarily identify why it's there. Well, now there's at least one potential upside to having anxiety: According to to a paper in an upcoming edition of the journal Personality and Individual Difference, you're smarter, in a certain sense, if you have a tendency to worry.
A team of researchers led by Alexander Penney of Lakehead University in Ontario gave 126 undergraduates tests that measured all different aspects of their personalities — not only just anxiety and verbal intelligence, but also social phobia, dwelling on past events, test anxiety, and non-verbal intelligence, among others.
While verbal intelligence involves language-based reasoning, non-verbal intelligence deals with hands-on and visual reasoning.
Penney and his team found that, after controlling for the influence of test anxiety on current mood, the participants who reported worrying more (for example, they agreed with survey statements like "I am always worrying about something") also scored higher on the verbal intelligence test.
However, those who reported a tendency to dwell on the past scored lower on the non-verbal intelligence test.
If you really think about it, the findings make logical sense. Verbally intelligent people are more likely to turn to things they've learned and seen in the past in order to deduce a solution rather than the information they're given in the present, whereas non-verbally intelligent people use clues they observe at the time the problem is presented to them without becoming concerned with anything in the past.
Of course, we must be careful not to take these results entirely to heart, as the sample used was both small and non-clinical. Regardless, the research is compelling, and it puts a positive spin on the worry-wart way of thinking. Though it's important at times to let go of the past, we can also use it to make wiser decisions now.
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