An isolated genius may be a creative powerhouse, but an ostracized genius may be a stilted one, according to research suggesting that intellectual abilities diminish when people feel socially excluded.
Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., of Case Western Reserve University, argues that interpersonal rejection can dramatically reduce the capacity for intelligent thought, raising the possibility that reasoning skills evolved to help us navigate the complexities of social life rather than help us solve technical problems.
In studies recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, subjects were given false feedback after taking personality tests. Members of one group were told that they would die alone, while others were told to expect lasting friendships. Subjects primed for a solitary life were able to remember simple information such as nonsensical syllables, but they were significantly impaired in performing complex reasoning tasks. They were also slower and less accurate in their responses to a timed IQ test, a "dual deficit" reminiscent of the cognitive impairment caused by certain head injuries, according to Baumeister.