science of us

Angry People Tend to Overestimate Their Intelligence

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStoc/Getty Images

You know how you can tell when someone is monologuing away with what they clearly assume to be perfect correctness, but really, they’re just loud? And you know when someone is pounding their fist into the table in order to emphasize their point, which actually makes no sense? Is this ringing any uncomfortably close-to-home bells for anyone?? Well, according to a new study published in the academic journal Intelligence, angry people think they’re a lot smarter than they actually are.

Building in part on previous research that established a link between the anger trait and optimistic tendencies, researchers Marcin Zajenkowski and Gilles E. Gignac hypothesized that people prone to anger may correspondingly view their own intelligence with rose-colored glasses. Survey respondents were asked to self-assess their own anger using the “State Trait Anger Expression Inventory,” in which they rated their agreement to statements like “When I get mad, I say nasty things.” Participants then rated their own intelligence on a scale from 1–25. These ratings were then translated into corresponding IQ scores and set against the participants’ actual scores on four standardized intelligence tests, from which a composite score was assigned.

When researchers controlled for neuroticism (a trait also commonly associated with trait-anger), they found that anger was a strong, statistically significant predictor in overestimating one’s intelligence. (The highly neurotic, you may not be surprised to hear, tend to underestimate their intelligence.) According to the researchers, this may mean that there are two distinct aspects to the “angry” personality trait previously encompassed by the broader “trait-anger” term: there are those who are angry and neurotic, who tend to be harder on themselves, and thus less likely to rate their intelligence highly; and then there are those who are angry and optimistic, and thus overconfident in their abilities.

Notably, researchers also found that anger and objective intelligence were “essentially unrelated.” You can be a dumb jerk or a smart jerk, but barring a healthy dose of neuroticism, you’re likely to be a jerk who thinks you’re smarter than you are. Just something to keep in mind at the next big meeting!

Angry People Tend to Overestimate Their Intelligence