Intelligent people are happier alone than in places having greater population density, a research published in the British Journal of Psychology suggests. The study reveals how ancestral needs influenced human emotions and how smart people enjoyed solitude and were less exultant around people, while others stayed happier surrounded by friends and family.

The researchers, Norman P Li of Singapore Management University and Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, collectively investigated about the “savannah theory” of happiness. The savannah theory, also known as the “evolutionary legacy hypothesis” and the “mismatch hypothesis”, asserts that people react towards situations just like their ancestors would, having evolved emotionally based on our ancestors’ needs in the days when people lived on savannah.

The study accessed data from interviews that were carried out by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) in the years 2001-2002. These interviews were conducted with almost 15,197 individuals falling in the age bracket of 18-28. The researchers examined the correlation between the area where the interviewee lived – rural or urban – and his or her life satisfaction. The researchers were interested to explore how population density and relationships affect the notions of happiness.

The study indicated intelligent people were less happy in areas with greater population density. The authors of the report considered it as a support for the savannah theory because people naturally felt nervous and uncomfortable in larger group settings. The authors cited that after comparing the size of human neocortex to other primates, along with comparing the sizes of the groups they belonged to, it could be suggested that the natural size of a human group consisted of 150 people. They further added computer simulations highlighted that progression of risk aversion also happened in groups of 150 and if exceeded were divided into two groups or more for better cooperation among the members.

The study found the negative impact of lots of people around was more profound on intelligent people. Moreover, they suggested that smarter ancestors were more apt in familiarising to larger groups on the savannah, as they were more flexible and had innate ingenuity. They added that our ancestors felt less stressed in an urban milieu such as of today.

While friendships are correlated with life satisfaction, Li and Kanazawa added only one study was available on this theme which concluded that friendships helped in satisfying emotional and psychological needs such as empathy, the need to be wanted and an opportunity to share experiences.

Li and Kanazawa says savannah theory can help in understanding why friendships and relationships were vital for evolution. They add that the savannah facilitated in hunting, food sharing, reproduction and child rearing activities in a group setting.

The data accessed by the authors supported the hypotheses that few good friendships were far better than lots of weaker ones and helped in increasing life satisfaction among people. However, the findings were reversed in the case of highly intelligent people who felt less happy in the company of people, even their close friends.

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