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Are Crabbier Elders Smarter?

And you thought Crabby Old Lady was just disagreeable. Hmmph. According to a new study presented at the American Psychological Association meeting in New Orleans last month, Crabby may be smarter than your average old lady (or man) just because she IS crabby.

“The researchers concluded that among the older participants, agreeableness appears to be negatively related to intelligence. This implies, the researchers suggested, that being older and unfriendly might actually equate with being smarter.”, 10 August 2006

According to associate professor of psychology, Jacqueline Bichsel, of Morgan State University in Baltimore, the most agreeable elders in the study had the lowest IQs.

“Seeking out information and being open to adventure could build general knowledge at younger ages, Bichsel suggests. But in older adults, this accumulation of facts may do less to promote intelligence. Instead, more challenging and argumentative people may be giving themselves more of the mental workout needed to keep their minds young.”
USA Today, 16 August 2006

The study was small, only 381 adults between the ages of 19 and 89, so of course there are doubters of the researchers’ interpretation. But one, Richard Robins, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, also noted that his recent work with 10,000 college students

“…revealed a weak but consistent association between young disagreeable men and women and slighty higher SAT scores.”, 10 August 2006

Crabby Old Lady is not qualified to judge the significance of these studies, particularly when based only on news reports. But the idea that people (of any age) who do not unquestioningly accept the status quo are smarter has merit. As Bob Geldoff once said on the British TV series, Grumpy Old Men, "If you're not grumpy about what's going on in the world, you're not paying attention."

There are a lot of “maybes” in the study and personality is a particularly squishy attribute to nail down. Nevertheless, until something better comes along, Crabby Old Lady has decided to bask for a day in her self-satisfaction.


Terrific! I'll alert my 60 something siblings! We're an opinionated group. I like "opinionated" better!

Ooh, Crabby, I love this study! Finally I have reason to bask in *my* disagree-ableness. Hurrah!

Let's hear it for Crabby Old Lady!! I feel myself getting grumpier by the moment.

I'm not at all sure what I think of this study...other than it is certainly small.

How is "disagreeable" defined in the study? Rude behavior? Independent behavior? Quite different. Intelligent people of any age often exhibit self confidence and independent behavior. Do people sometimes want elders to be tractable, managable, easy to lead? Are elders who maintain a confidence in their own abilities and decisions considered disagreeable?

The older I've gotten, the less concerned with pleasing others I've become. That doesn't mean I'm rude or belligerent or disagreeable...just more satisfied with the version of myself that has developed over the last 57 years. Isn't that typical?

I guess that my objection to the study lies with the definition of "agreeable" and the complete study may define and give examples of both agreeable and disagreeble behavior. If they are equating disagreeable and cranky with independent, frank, and self-confident...maybe I agree with the study if not the terminology. I enjoy the company of independent people and do generally consider them more intelligent.

On the other hand, if the study is defining "agreeable" as tractable and obedient, this cranky individual is sending them a big rasberry.

Noted that in one article a professor of psychology wasn't persuaded by the study.

If I had any brain, at all, I would vehemenently disagree with your posting, Ronni! ; )

When I working at a large educational institution in Cambridge, Mass., founded in the 1600s (hint, hint) I was in charge of editing the lengthy, laudatory obituaries for the esteemed faculty members. All these years later I still recall a phrase that was written by one man's colleagues. They said he had a 'charming irritability'. A nice way of saying he was a real bastard!

I'm not yet elderly and my only up close experience with elderly elders was family; so don't know how accurate that study is. I think though that at any age 'if' someone was constantly irritable and finding fault, they would find others not wanting to be around them; but if they aren't irritable when things are wrong, they aren't going to fix them. Being placid when the world is collapsing would not be a sign of mental depth for sure but making a big deal out of small things will make our own world miserable at any age.

Now I understand why I am growing more and more irritable and less and less tolerant of people ending their sentences with prepositions! Thanks Ronnie! You've cheered me right up.

Wow! I must be downright brilliant! :-)

After reading this, I might decided to go off and live in Grumbleland permanently ;)

Well, that explains some people's irritability!

I find that I become less concerned at what other people think, both socially and professionally. It is not that I don't care, it is just that I realize that not every one is going to like me, not every one is going to agree with me. And there is no reason to get mad or upset about much of it.

Um, self confidence and independence IS disagreeable behavior to many people. They don't like other people they can't easily influence.

Ah, I always knew that the day my inner bitch beat my inner nun for dominance was a good one.

People are always telling me I am opinated. Must be something good now.
I agree with the person who wanted to know what the defintions were in this group. Rude verses opinated?

Well Crabby, as they say, "You Go Girl!" - When I read about this study I tended to agree with it too. I do think as I've grown older I've allowed myself to be "grumpy" when I feel "grumpy" instead of trying to put on a false "happy face". I guess it has something to do with maturity of years, you just grow to care less about what other people think about you, or you're more willing to be your authentic self, i.e., you grow more comfortable in your own skin, be it grumpy or happy. I think this is a good thing.

Hallelujah! There's actually scientific data to support why I refuse to suffer fools gladly! Mother was wrong -- I don't have to always be a nice girl! Thanks, Ronni!!!!

Apparently, I'm going to live forever (according to my husband, who says I have the shortest fuse in the known universe...)


Seriously, my mom suffered from depression in the last year of her life (common amongst long-term dialysis patients) and had to go for a psychological assessment. The doctor asked her "do you feel angry?" and she said "Of course! Mildly annoyed is my default setting!". And I do believe that was why she survived her illness as long as she did - she was mildly (rising to substantially!) annoyed most of the time, but this would spur her on to make changes. And my father is the most impossible, cranky person, but at 85 he is still living in his 4-bedroom house, swimming in the summer and looking after himself and a calico cat. So these guys may be onto something.

I do think that agreeableness indicates an acceptance of one's situation, whereas those who push and fight against the status quo are seen as "difficult" - and if that's the case, I can see how being in the "difficult" camp could leave you mentally stronger.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post Ronni!

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