Do smart people drink more? Here's some science to ease your hangover

Alcohol consumption has been found to correlate positively with verbal ability, evolutionary adaptability and going to university.

This piece originally appeared on newrepublic.com

It’s the booziest time of the year, and also the most hung over: According to one study, 96 per cent of Americans have been hung over at work after a holiday party, or know someone who has. Creative hangover cures like dried sour plums and poached duck embryos may ease (or exacerbate) physical symptoms, but here’s something that might help the self-reproach: You can blame your hangover on your high IQ, because studies show there might be a positive correlation between intelligence and alcohol consumption.

The sooner you talk, the sooner you drink

Finnish researchers gathered data on 3,000 fraternal and identical twins and found that the sibling who was the first to develop verbal ability—speaking words, reading and using expressive language—also tended to be the first to try alcohol and to drink more heavily throughout adolescence. Verbal development may be correlated with social intelligence; the verbally precocious twin also had, on average, more friends, and could be more likely to end up in social situations where alcohol is present: “Good language skills reduce the likelihood of peer rejection .... higher social activity predicts more frequent drinking in adolescence,” write the authors.

Earlier speaking age is also associated with better academic performance throughout middle and high school and a higher chance of graduating from college—and achieving higher levels of education is also correlated with higher alcohol consumption. The authors hypothesize that intelligence is correlated with curiosity and a desire for new experiences: “Cognitive performance and reading abilities in childhood are related to higher stimulation-seeking tendencies.”

Drinkers are evolutionarily adaptive

According to the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis posited by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, the human brain has trouble dealing with situations that did not exist in the Pleistocene environment we evolved in, but some brains (less intelligent ones) have more trouble than others. Writes Kanazawa, “the human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment ... general intelligence evolved as a domain-specific psychological adaptation to solve evolutionarily novel problems.” Alcohol consumption is “evolutionarily novel”—humans began cultivating and consuming alcohol only about 10,000 years ago (though we may have ingested trace amounts of ethanol in fermented fruits before that)—so this model would predict a link between intelligence and drinking.

When Kanazawa analyzed data on UK children, he found that link. Drawing on the results of the National Child Development Study, which tracked for 50 years all British babies born during one week in March 1958, Kanazawa found that kids who scored higher on IQ tests grew up to drink larger quantities of alcohol on a more regular basis than their less intelligent peers. He evaluated other factors, including religion, frequency of church attendance, social class, parents’ education and self-reported satisfaction with life, and found that intelligence before age 16 was second only to gender in predicting alcohol consumption at age 23. In Kanazawa’s model, illicit drugs constitute another evolutionarily novel experience—and he (and others) have also found a link between high IQ and experimentation with drugs. In Kanazawa’s study, the higher a respondent’s IQ before age 16, the more psychoactive substances he or she had tried by age 42. Another study found that 30-year-old women who had earned high scores on an IQ test at age five were more than twice as likely to have smoked weed or used cocaine in the previous year; men who had scored highly on IQ tests as children were 50 percent more likely to have recently consumed amphetamines or ecstasy.

Smart people prefer wine

A study that compared 1,800 Danish men’s IQ scores to their drinking habits from the 1950s through 1990s found a strong correlation between high IQ in young adulthood and preference for wine over beer later in life, regardless of socioeconomic status. (Very few respondents—less than 1 per cent—preferred spirits; this preference was unrelated to IQ.) Twenty-two per cent of men who were grouped into the highest of five IQ categories at age 18 preferred wine in their 30s, compared to 9 per cent of the men grouped in the lowest IQ category. By their 40s, the differences were even more pronounced: 39 per cent of the men with the highest IQs, but only 13 per cent of those with the lowest, preferred wine. According to the paper, “in the predominantly beer-drinking Danish population ... wine drinking has traditionally been a sign of high social standing.” The correlation among income, education, social status and intelligence could explain their findings.

College graduates drink more

Researchers at the London School of Economics examined data on thousands of British adults in their 30s and found a positive correlation between educational attainment and daily drinking. The relationship was stronger for women: Women who had graduated from college were 86 per cent more likely than women who hadn’t graduated high school to admit to drinking on most days. Possible explanations include: “a more intensive social life that encourages alcohol intake; a greater engagement into traditionally male spheres of life; a greater social acceptability of alcohol use and abuse; more exposure to alcohol use during formative years; and greater postponement of childbearing and its responsibilities among the better educated.” The link between education and drinking holds for American adults: According to the U.S. Department of Health, rates of alcohol consumption rise with education level, with 68.4 per cent of college graduates describing themselves as drinkers, compared with 35.2 per cent for adults without high school diplomas—perhaps reflecting people bringing the binge-drinking habits they learn on campus into adulthood.

This piece originally appeared on newrepublic.com

The film critic and producer Marco Müller in Rome. In Denmark wine drinkers tend to be smarter than beer drinkers. Photograph: Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images.
Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses