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Is There a Connection Between Being Smart and Being Liked?

A new study investigates the potential link between intelligence and likability.

Key points

  • Smart people tend to be liked better than their peers, a new study focusing on adolescents found.
  • Smart people tend to like fewer people than less intelligent people, and have a tendency to only like other intelligent people.
  • The association between intelligence and likability is strongest at the beginning of a relationship—suggesting that, over time, smarts become less important.
  • Intelligent people who only like other intelligent people may be perceived as arrogant or become isolated, the researchers warn.

Why do we like somebody else?

Several factors come to mind: An agreeable personality; similar opinions, values, and beliefs; and high physical attractiveness all might influence how much someone likes another person.

One factor that may be a little bit more complicated is intelligence. It could be assumed that people generally like other people better if they are smarter, as they might be more interesting to talk to. But this association may also be a function of the intelligence of both people. If someone is too smart, somebody with lower intelligence may not like them as they might feel that they look worse in comparison. Vice versa, a really smart person might feel like somebody with lower intelligence is less interesting to talk to and therefore less likable.

Are Smart People More Likable?

Surprisingly, psychological research has not investigated the relationship between being smart and being liked in-depth before. Therefore, a new study recently published in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences (Flakus et al., 2021) investigated the association between intelligence and being liked.

In the study, researcher Maria Flakus and her team analyzed data gathered from Polish high school pupils. The pupils were tested using a standard intelligence test (Raven’s Progressive Matrices) and also asked to indicate which other pupils they liked best from their class. The researcher did not give a limit to this list of liked people, so pupils could select no one, anyone in the class, or any number in between.

These measures were taken three times:

  • During the first month of school when the pupils did not know each other well
  • After three months of school when they started to know each other
  • After 12 months of school when the pupils knew each other well

The Relationship Between Intelligence and Being Liked

The results of the study indicated that being intelligent influenced both being liked and liking others. Interestingly, it did so in opposite ways. Intelligent pupils were liked better by their classmates. However, they also tended to like fewer people than less intelligent pupils. Specifically, smart pupils had a tendency to only like others that were as smart as themselves, but not people with lower intelligence.

Importantly, the effect of liking others due to their intelligence was strongest during the first test and became weaker over time. Thus, over time, the importance of intelligence in building social relationships diminishes and other factors become more important. The researchers suggested that over time, knowing about the shared interests of others may be a more important factor in liking than knowing that they are smart.

In contrast, the effect of smart pupils only liking others that were equally intelligent remained significant over the course of the year, although it became a bit weaker. The researchers warn that this may lead to intelligent pupils being seen as isolated by others or may even result in social disregard. This may become problematic—if, for example, the smart pupils are being perceived as arrogant. Thus, smart people may wish to be extra careful to take care of their social relationships.

Facebook image: Bobex-73/Shutterstock

References

Maria Flakus, Barnaba Danieluk, Lidia Baran, Katarzyna Kwiatkowska, Radosław Rogoza, Julie Aitken Schermer (2021). Are intelligent peers liked more? Assessing peer-reported liking through the network analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 177, 110844.

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