Researchers have long been interested in whether or not a relationship exists between intelligence and bipolar disorder. Findings have been somewhat inconsistent. For example, some studies have found that those with bipolar disorder had lower intelligence scores than the control group. On the other hand, bipolar disorder has been linked to more completed education and higher grades. New research postulates intelligence may factor into bipolar disorder in another way, possibly predicting the future severity of the disorder.
LaRae LaBouff lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. She’s an amateur photographer and enjoys traveling, reading, writing and roller derby.Due to personal experience with Bipolar Disorder, she delved into the literature and research of the human mind. She currently writes of her own life experiences both with Psych Central and on her personal site.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Standardized intelligence testing has been around for over a century. It helps professionals gauge whether or not a person may have a learning disability. Tests can also identify specific aptitudes and skill levels. The Intelligence Quotient or IQ test measures cognitive intelligence. That is, the ability to think ahead, the ability to reason, adaptability and the ability to think creatively. This measures only a part of human intelligence. There is also emotional and social intelligence, for example.
While the research on how bipolar disorder may impact a person’s cognitive intelligence is not definitive, people with bipolar disorder can suffer from cognitive deficits. Problems with cognitive functioning are not always permanent and usually correspond with episode severity, but people can have problems even between episodes. When cognitive function is impacted, people may have trouble with attention, memory, critical thinking, some motor skills and social functioning. That is not to say the person is unintelligent.
New research, being published in the Journal of Affective Disorders and led by Diego J. Martino of Favaloro University in Argentina, sought to find whether or not there is a connection between a person’s IQ and their illness severity. Illness severity in this case is the number of manic or hypomanic episodes, not the severity of individual episodes.
The team recruited 119 patients with bipolar disorder and 40 healthy control subjects. The participants were given surveys to determine their current psychological state. Then they were tested in intelligence areas of attention, verbal memory and cognitive function.
Results indicated three major points:
1 IQ may affect cognitive function in people with bipolar disorder.
2 IQ did not seem to affect other neurocognitive or psychosocial outcomes.
3 Participants with lower IQ scores seemed to experience more manic or hypomanic episodes than those with higher IQ scores.
One reason the researchers think this may be the case is that people with higher neurocognitive functioning tended to have more of what’s called cognitive reserve. In cognitive reserve, brain is able to bypass damage in order to continue functioning as highly as possible. Higher intelligence has been related to some aspects of cognitive functioning.
So, it’s possible that higher IQ’s may come with higher cognitive reserve. That cognitive reserve may be able to protect those with bipolar disorder from its effects. This may be why people with higher intelligence tended to fare better than those with lower intelligence, averaging fewer episodes of mania or hypomania.
It should be noted that this research is preliminary and more studies will need to be done to further confirm and interpret the findings.