Q. I read an article about personality characteristics related to intelligence. Is there anything to that?

A. Good question. I am aware of a couple of studies.  A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality revealed some interesting information. It concluded that intelligent people are more likely to be generous and altruistic. While generosity is not something people usually associate with intelligence, this research clearly shows a link. In the study abstract, the researchers referred to “unconditional altruism” as an enduring puzzle and posited that the “costly signaling theory,” a well-established framework in biology and economics, may be useful to shed light on the individual differences in human unconditional altruism. Based on this theory, their research showed that unconditional altruistic behavior is related to general intelligence; that unconditional altruism can serve as an honest signal of intelligence. They believe that their findings imply that altruistic behavior can be distinguished from cooperative behavior.

The second study reported in the Journal of Research in Personality concluded that those who possess a dispositional tendency to value joint benefits more than their own, scored higher on an intelligence test. Researchers studied 301 people who played games that involved either donating to others or keeping things for themselves. They found that those who were more egotistical and who kept more for themselves tended to be less intelligent. While those who were more generous to others tended to be more intelligent (e.g., individuals with higher IQs were more concerned with the public good.) Comments by the authors concluded that the evidence presented supports the possibility that unconditional altruism may serve as a costly signal of general intelligence because altruism is costly and is reliably linked to the quality “general intelligence.” They also found that children’s intelligence predicts later socio-economic success better than attributes of their parents’ attributes, concluding that intelligence is an indicator of future resources. A person with high cognitive skills may be able to donate more in advance than someone with lower skills and perhaps can afford to be more generous because they have more to give.

Christian Smith at the University of Notre Dame and colleagues are studying the science of generosity, as they put it. They defined generosity as the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly. They also pointed out that generosity also involves giving to others not simply anything in abundance but rather giving those things that are good for others. The goal of true generosity is to enhance the true wellbeing of those to whom it gives. Generosity can involve tangible and intangible gifts. Many automatically think of money and possessions. Some of the intangibles may even be more important in the long term, including personal time, attention, aid, encouragement, emotional availability, empathy, the sharing of information to help promote personal growth and high level of Emotional Intelligence, and so on. The researchers were also clear that generosity is not identical with pure altruism, since people can be authentically generous in part for reasons that serve their own interests as well as those of others. If indeed, generosity is a virtue, to practice it for the good of others also necessarily means that doing so achieves one’s own true, long-term good as well. Perhaps like all the “virtues,” true generosity is in people’s best enlightened self-interest to learn and to put into practice.

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