Can people with high IQ be ideologically blind?


By Fabiano de Abreu Agrela

Ideological blindness, a phenomenon where individuals have difficulty processing or accepting information that contradicts their pre-established beliefs, involves several areas of the brain associated with both emotional and cognitive processing. The aim of investigating the relationship with the same brain regions in people with high IQ is to define the interference of intelligence in this sense and whether it is possible for there to be people with high IQ who are ideologically blind. 

Prefrontal Cortex

Orbitofrontal Cortex:  Participates in emotional processing and attributing value to experiences, which can contribute to the maintenance of ideological beliefs when emotions overcome logic (Agrela Rodrigues, F. de A., 2022).

The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a brain region critical for modulating cognition and emotion, exhibits a significant association with high intelligence quotients. Primarily involved in the assessment of rewards and risks, as well as the regulation of emotional responses, the OFC is fundamental for complex decision-making and abstract reasoning. Individuals with a higher IQ often show increased connectivity and more robust activity in the OFC, which suggests a superior ability to integrate information and control emotional impulses in favor of more rational and objective choices. These characteristics are crucial not only in solving complex problems, but also in the ability to formulate and adjust beliefs based on logic rather than emotion, implying a central role of the OFC in mediating between high intelligence and advanced cognitive processes (Schnack et al., 2015).

Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC):  Essential for executive functions such as critical thinking and reasoning. A reduced or altered function in this area can decrease the ability to question or reevaluate beliefs in the face of new information (Agrela Rodrigues, F. de A., 2022). 

The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), an epicenter of executive functions including reasoning and critical thinking, plays a crucial role in modulating intelligence and susceptibility to ideological blindness. Neuroscientific investigations indicate that high cognitive ability, often measured as intelligence quotient (IQ), correlates with heightened and efficient activity in this region, facilitating advanced analytical processing and reevaluation of beliefs in response to new data. Paradoxically, changes in the functionality of the DLPFC, whether due to neural dysfunction or underlying genetic influences, can compromise these capabilities, resulting in a rigid adherence to ideologies even in the face of contradictory evidence. This phenomenon illustrates the complexity of the interactions between high cognitive capacity and neuropsychological vulnerabilities that can coexist, influencing the way information is processed and decisions are made (Barbey, Colom, & Grafman, 2013).

Ventromedial Pre-Frontal Cortex:  Involved in decision-making and emotion, this region helps regulate emotional responses to challenges to personal beliefs, which can affect openness to changing one’s opinion (Agrela Rodrigues, F. de A., 2022).

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), a brain region intrinsically linked to the integration of emotions in decision making, manifests a complex relationship with high intellectual capacity and ideological blindness. Individuals with a high intelligence quotient (IQ) often present optimized vmPFC activity, which would theoretically facilitate the critical and adaptive evaluation of information. However, in contexts where deeply held beliefs are challenged, the same region can mediate intense emotional responses that hinder the revision of convictions, leading to ideological blindness. This dynamic suggests that although rational processing capacity in the vmPFC may be amplified in people with high IQ, the emotional regulation that this brain area also coordinates may, paradoxically, contribute to the maintenance of inflexible perspectives when faced with contrary evidence, underlining the functional duality of the vmPFC in cognitive and emotional contexts (Hiser & Koenigs, 2017).

Limbic System

Amygdala:  Central to the processing of emotions, especially fear and anger, which can be intensely provoked when fundamental beliefs are challenged.

The amygdala, a neural nucleus crucial in processing emotions such as fear and anger, plays a significant role in the emotional responses of individuals with high intelligence quotient (IQ) faced with challenges to their fundamental beliefs. The intensity of emotional reactions mediated by the amygdala can, paradoxically, contribute to ideological blindness in people with high cognitive ability. Although individuals with high IQ may exhibit a superior capacity for logical reasoning, the accentuated activation of the amygdala in situations of ideological conflict can suppress this rationality, favoring emotional reactions that prevent the reconsideration of deeply held beliefs. This phenomenon illustrates a complex interplay between heightened cognitive capabilities and innate emotional mechanisms, where genetic predisposition and the specific neural configuration of the amygdala influence how contrary information is processed and accepted (Li, Y., Xue, Y., Zhao, W. -t., Li, S.-s., Li, J., & Xu, Y., 2020).

Hippocampus:  Although primary in the formation of memories, the hippocampus is also involved in retrieving memories that can reinforce or challenge ideological beliefs.

The hippocampus, a pivotal neural structure in the encoding and retrieval of memories, plays a significant role in the cognitive processing associated with individuals with a high intelligence quotient (IQ) and in the manifestation of ideological blindness. The functional and structural integrity of the hippocampus facilitates the management of complex information and problem solving, characteristics common in people with high IQ. However, its function in recovering memories can also contribute to the reaffirmation of pre-existing beliefs, enhancing resistance to accepting new perspectives that contradict deep-rooted ideological convictions. Thus, while the hippocampus supports advanced cognitive capabilities essential for analytical reasoning, it can also reinforce confirmation bias, a key component in ideological blindness, through the preferential selection and retrieval of information that corroborates an individual’s beliefs, demonstrating the complexity of their beliefs. functions on the cognitive-emotional spectrum (Dalton et al., 2017).

Anterior Cingulum:  A part of the cingulate that is involved in conflict resolution and emotional regulation. Problems here can lead to greater ideological rigidity, as the individual may have difficulty managing the emotional discomfort caused by cognitive discrepancies.

The anterior cingulate, a critical neural component for conflict resolution and emotional regulation, plays a dual role by interacting with high levels of intelligence quotient (IQ) and ideological blindness. This brain region is instrumental in modulating responses to cognitive dissonance, facilitating flexibility of thinking in individuals with high intellectual capacity when evaluating and integrating contradictory information. However, anomalies in the functionality of the anterior cingulate can compromise this mechanism, leading to marked ideological rigidity. In contexts where challenges to established beliefs occur, failures in the anterior cingulate’s ability to mediate emotional distress may result in the maintenance of inflexible perspectives despite evidence to the contrary, highlighting their relevance at the intersection between advanced cognitive capabilities and susceptibility to ideological distortions (Botvinick , Cohen, & Carter, 2004). 

It follows then that high IQ does not guarantee immunity to ideological blindness. High intellectual capacity needs to be accompanied by the ability to manage emotions, that is, emotional intelligence. Question beliefs and keep an open mind to new perspectives to avoid ideological rigidity and promote critical thinking and the search for truth. The IQ test measures intelligence, but does not measure emotional and social intelligence. Therefore, people with high IQ may experience emotional blindness, except those with high emotional intelligence. 

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