9 subtle signs someone has extremely high intelligence (even if they downplay it)

Ryan Frawley by Ryan Frawley | February 13, 2024, 11:30 pm

Forget Hollywood stereotypes. It’s not always immediately obvious that someone is smart. After all, intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wear glasses or speak with a refined accent.

Plus, many intelligent people aren’t interested in appearing intelligent to others. They may not necessarily stand out from the crowd, either by choice or just because they are a low-key person.

Sometimes, people even downplay their intelligence. It may be that they don’t want to make others feel stupid around them, or they don’t like the expectations that come when people know someone is smarter than average.

But no matter how much they tried to downplay it, there are some signs of high intelligence that will give away a person with a powerful brain. Keep an eye out for these signs that a person is smarter than they are pretending to be.

1) They are inquisitive

Curiosity is a dead giveaway of an intelligent person.

In fact, this trait is so strongly linked to intelligence that it goes beyond just our species. The most intelligent animals tend to be the most curious about the world around them.

Take a look at this study: children who scored higher on IQ tests when they were 11 years old continued to be more observant and inquisitive until they were 50 years old.

In other words, smart kids grow up to be curious and inquisitive adults.

If you think about it, it makes sense. Your brain forms new connections and you learn more when you are inquisitive about the world around you. Thus, it may not come as a huge surprise that those who are more interested also tend to be smarter.

Staying interested in the world and learning new things is how intelligent people keep their powerful minds occupied. But it’s also how they become more knowledgeable. That base of knowledge in turn helps them make new connections, discover new things, and become even more intelligent.

2) They have interests they are passionate about

Thanks to TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, there’s a cultural stereotype about smart people being passionately absorbed in often nerdy interests.

But there is truth to the idea that intelligent people often get deeply absorbed in hobbies and intellectual pursuits.

Again, this goes back to the fact that a powerful mind needs something to keep it occupied.

Getting deeply absorbed in passion projects, whether it’s astronomy, music, comic books, or history, provides intelligent people with an outlet for the restless energy of their brain.

And because intelligent people pick up new knowledge so well, they often quickly become extremely knowledgeable about any new interest that has caught their attention.

“[Intelligent people] are able to admit when they aren’t familiar with a particular concept or if something falls outside of their realm of knowledge, and are willing to learn what they don’t know,” argues clinical psychologist Holly Schiff

“Their intellectual curiosity will lend itself to wanting to self-educate and read anything they can get their hands on.”

3) They practice self-control

Thinking before you speak or act is a sign of self-control. And intelligent people frequently exhibit this quality, which can greatly increase their success.

People who are prone to emotional outbursts often behave illogically.

Even if it goes against their long-term goals, they will follow their emotions, and they frequently end up harming themselves or others with their out-of-control emotions.

However, clever people are aware that it’s usually a good idea to consider your actions before taking them. That way, you can decide what is the best course of action and ensure that your actions are the best possible choice to get the outcomes you want.

For instance, it’s well known that those with higher IQs typically have better physical health. That’s because they have enough self-control to refrain from eating unhealthy foods or adopting harmful habits like smoking or regular drinking.

4) They know how much they don’t know

Have you ever heard of the Dunning Kruger effect?

Basically, this phenomenon shows that when people first start learning about a new subject, they often overestimate how much they really know. It’s only when they learn a little more about the subject that they start to realize that there is actually much more to it than they first thought.

That’s why people who aren’t smart often overestimate their own intelligence, while people who are actually smart are well aware of the limits of their abilities.

Genuinely smart people are often very humble about their intelligence. That’s because they know that no matter how smart you are, there’s always someone even smarter out there somewhere.

Besides, intelligent people are also aware that while intelligence is a great gift to have in life, it doesn’t guarantee anything. And it certainly doesn’t make you a better person than anyone else.

5) They read a lot

Did you know that reading a lot in childhood actually helps your brain physically develop more?

It’s a fairly astonishing fact that demonstrates why it’s so important not only to teach kids to read but also to encourage them to enjoy reading so that they will make it a lifelong habit.

Of course, reading is also one of the best ways to learn new things. That’s why more often than not, highly intelligent people are also voracious readers.

6) They like to spend time alone

Have you ever heard of the savanna theory of happiness?

This fascinating piece of research found, among other things, that most people are happier when they have more social interaction. But the opposite was true for highly intelligent people. They actually became less happy the more time they spent with others.

It might sound strange. But when you consider that it’s hard to have meaningful conversations with anyone whose IQ is more than 30 points above or below yours, it starts to make more sense.

Someone with an IQ of 160, for example, wouldn’t really enjoy spending time with anyone who scores below 130, which is still highly intelligent – so intelligent, in fact, that less than 5% of the population score this high.

To put it simply, the smarter you are, the harder it is to find other people on your level.

But also, intelligent people often enjoy their time alone. It allows them to work on their ideas without the interruptions caused by other people.

So if you know someone who likes to spend a lot of time alone, it might be because they are usually intelligent.

7) They observe everything

Being curious about the world means paying close attention to it. You can often tell if someone is intelligent by how much they notice of what’s going on around them.

Intelligent people listen to what others have to say. They also pay attention to what they don’t say, relying on body language and gestures to reveal more about the mental state of those they are conversing with.

They are also aware of their surroundings. Often, they will notice even minor details, like the color of cars passing by them or the way a stranger walks.

This isn’t necessarily something they do on purpose. It’s just a side effect of having a mind that is always craving new information.

Observing the world around them gives intelligent people that information, and often allows them to make the sometimes surprising connections between one thing and another that are the trademark of a smart person.

8) They listen

You can learn all about the world from books, TV documentaries, scientific papers, and many other sources. But sometimes, one of the best ways to learn something new is simply to listen to other people.

“Intelligent people recognize that others have information and insights that through a shared conversation will help both grow and expand their wisdom and enhance their intellect,” says Andi Simon, author of Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business.

So intelligent people will not only listen closely to others. They will also ask meaningful questions to get a better handle on somebody else’s point of view and learn as much as they possibly cannot from everyone they encounter.

9) They are open-minded

It’s a strange fact that more intelligent people tend to score more highly for Openness, one of the big five personality traits. This means that if someone is more open-minded and receptive to the viewpoints of others, there’s a good chance they will be more intelligent than average.

Check out this study, which found that “that Openness is more closely associated with individual differences in the accrual of broad verbal intellectual skills and knowledge than with narrower executive abilities that are localized to a specific brain region or neurotransmitter system.”

In other words, intelligent people seem to be predisposed to being open to the views of others.

Of course, it’s also true that intelligent people love to learn. And they know that being open to other people viewpoints is a great way to do that.

Intelligent people don’t accept things blindly or make decisions based on emotion. Instead, they subject their own thoughts and ideas to a rigorous process of testing.

Trying to understand the viewpoints of others, even people you don’t agree with, can help you develop your own ideas and make sure that you aren’t overlooking something crucial.

Signs of intelligence

Some people deliberately try to hide their intelligence. Others just aren’t interested in showing it off.

But these subtle signs can let you know you’re dealing with a highly intelligent person. Keep an eye out for them, because there may be more highly intelligent people in your life than you realize.

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