University of Victoria psychology professor Martin Smith holds a glass of wine and a model of the human brain in his campus office. Smith specializes in evolutionary psychology and gave a talk earlier this year on research that links higher intelligence and alcohol consumption

CULTURE OF DRINKING: Why smart people drink more and stay up later

  • May. 20, 2011 12:00 p.m.

The more intelligent you are, the more alcohol you tend to drink. It’s a bold theory and one that Martin Smith loves to discuss.

“People higher in general intelligence tend to drink more because they’re not bothered by the strangeness of the alcohol experience,” said the evolutionary psychologist and professor at the University of Victoria. “It doesn’t bother them as much because they have this extra processing ability, both on a cognitive level and an emotional level that makes them OK with these different kinds of experiences.”

The research behind the theory springs from London-based evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa who developed a theory for why people with IQs measured over 125, in general, drink markedly more than those of lower general intelligence.

Kanazawa believes that highly intelligent people have a module of mind – a specific mechanism in their thinking – which allows them to deal with evolutionary novel stimuli and situations, such as alcohol.

As the theory goes, given that alcohol is new in terms of evolution, our ability to react to the stimuli springs from a module of mind developed to deal with an array of special situations – from natural disasters to other infrequent events and ultimately relates to our general intelligence.

When Smith presented the research in a February lecture series, UVic students were particularly receptive to the idea that smart people not only drank more, but also had a tendency to push past the evolutionary urge to go to bed when the sun sets and remain productive post nightfall.

“It’s very traditional for university students to stay up late doing a variety of things – surfing the web, studying, partying … when they look at this data and compare it to their own lives and the people they know, certainly they can see the phenomena here,” said Smith, admittedly, a “prime offender” of drinking wine and staying up late.

Smith points out that highly intelligent people are well aware of the dangers of the substance due to their smarts, yet still, the relationship exists.

“It’s a surprising theory that I love,” Smith said, adding that concept of modules of the mind is a huge step in furthering our understanding of the brain. “In my mind it’s a good idea. It’s a very clever idea and, in my mind, it’s at least partly true.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

Part of our series on alcohol use in Greater Victoria

LOWDOWN ON LIQUOR: A sip-by-sip breakdown of how drinking affects your body

CULTURE OF DRINKING: Why smart people drink more and stay up later

COSTS OF ALCOHOL: Debate continues about whether alcoholism is a disease, but there’s no question that society bears a heavy price

UNBORN’S UNFAIR BURDEN: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and the people devoted to understanding the invisible, pervasive condition caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol

 

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