Intelligence is one of the most sought-after traits in an individual. But can you truly tell if someone is intelligent or not?
Some people say that they can easily point it out just by looking at a person, while others say otherwise.
So we asked experts, “what are the signs of an intelligent person?”
Here are their insights:
Truly intelligent individuals are marked by a quiet and humble confidence
I am a clinical neuropsychologist who specializes in assessing decision-making capacity. These assessments include looking at intelligence but also other cognitive skills such as memory and communication abilities.
In thousands of assessments of individuals who range from no formal education to several doctoral-level degrees, from people working as a cleaning person to a congressperson—I have found that truly intelligent individuals are marked by a quiet and humble confidence.
They trust that they will do well in what they attempt, and they do not brag about what they have accomplished. I have sometimes been surprised to later learn what the person actually has done in their life.
The most intelligent people remain focused and work hard during our time together. They perform well on the testing, and it is often the case that they have succeeded in life.
The measurement of IQ was designed to predict success in school, which it does to a tolerable degree. It is less effective at determining success in life.
They have the ability to effectively interact with others
Truly intelligent people often have high IQ scores, but it is more than that. They have the ability to effectively interact with others, which I often see reflected in the humility I mentioned above.
I believe it is components of this emotional intelligence that accounts for the quiet confidence I have observed.
Dr. John Leddo
PhD in Educational Psychology, Yale University | Owner, MyEdMaster
They understand the “why” behind what they were doing—not just the “how”
Intelligence is a subject that has been debated and studied extensively. There are countless tests that purport to measure it.
There are debates over whether there is someone or something called “intelligence” (as implied by the standard IQ test) or whether, as Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University suggests, that there are many different types of intelligence.
Is intelligence something you are born with or something you can acquire over time?
People debate whether intelligence is something you are born with or something you can acquire over time. The answer appears to be yes to both.
Since we cannot yet control our genetic makeup, I’ve devoted my career to studying what makes people intelligent or experts in their respective fields and what people can do to build their own intelligence and expertise.
First, I want to talk about what I think of as intelligence. We often use the term “intelligent” when talking about people, and this can mean different things.
- We can be impressed with how someone’s mind works, as in how quickly they think or how well they remember things.
- We can be impressed with how much information they know about the topics they speak about.
- We can be impressed with the depth of their reasoning and understanding of different subjects.
It is this latter area that I want to focus on because this is the one that seems to make the most difference in what a person can accomplish or contribute to society.
What do we mean by depth of reasoning and understanding?
If we think of intelligence as the depth of reasoning and understanding, the next question becomes, “What do we mean by depth of reasoning and understanding?” This is an area I’ve done extensive research on.
I’ve had the privilege of working with countless professionals who are regarded as experts or top specialists in their fields. What distinguished these people from others in their fields was a deeper knowledge of the causal principles behind the problem-solving methods that were commonly used in their professions.
They understand the “why” behind what they were doing, not just the how.
This extra knowledge manifested itself in situations that were new and called for innovative solutions rather than the standard or tried and true approaches.
The experts knew why the previous solutions weren’t optimal for the current situations and knew how to adapt them to the conditions in the present situations. Experts also had the ability to “project ahead” and see how, based on current cause and effect conditions, the future would change compared to the present.
This enabled experts to prepare for future situations long before they come.
A great example of this is Elon Musk. He saw that global warming would eventually make internal combustion engines obsolete, and he created Tesla. Now, the consensus is that electric vehicles are the future, and Elon Musk is the intelligent person who got there first and is the richest person in the world because of it.
The sad part is that, to a one, every expert I’ve worked with told me that they didn’t acquire their deep thinking in school but learned it on their own.
It seems a tragedy that we value experts but don’t know how to create them in our educational system.
We recently underscored that point (in a paper we published) that compared how students solve real-world math problems compared to those who do math for a living.
We found that students went straight to the formulas. They plugged in numbers and crunched out answers. If the answers were wrong, students usually didn’t notice. If the wrong formulas were used, the students got stuck.
On the other hand, the math practitioners did a lot more up-front thinking. They built conceptual models of the problems they were solving and often used even simpler methods to solve the problems than students did. In other words, the math practitioners were more like our intelligent experts, but the students were not.
No wonder the experts we studied said that they didn’t learn to become experts in school!
The good news is that there is hope. We recently published an experiment that found that if you teach students both the procedures for solving problems and the “why” or conceptual understanding behind the problem-solving methods, students actually learn three times better than if you just teach them the procedural methods alone.
In other words, we think there is a way to give all students a deeper understanding of subjects and make them more intelligent.
Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD
Certified Psychiatrist, The Pleasant Mind
An intelligent person is calm, insightful, adaptable, and creative
Intelligence is not just about having a higher IQ. The Intelligence Quotient is a measure of your intellectual abilities and aptitudes.
The tests measure reasoning, problem-solving, aptitudes, etc. But it does not give an idea about social intelligence or emotional intelligence that actually forms a bigger part of your daily functioning.
Intelligence includes a broad spectrum of things.
It not only designates your innate mind power or intellectual strengths—it involves your overall ability to understand clearly, think rationally, feel your emotions deeply, and act according to the demands of place and time.
- insightful thinking,
- emotional self-regulation,
- abilities to learn and remember new things,
- innovative problem solving, and much more.
They can accept change easily and is in control of their own emotions
An intelligent person is calm, insightful, and adaptable. They can accept change easily and is in control of their own emotions as well.
Most intelligent people are thoughtful and creative. Their logical and reasoning power is also high. Thus, they think well before speaking or acting upon a decision.
Some of the key signs of an intelligent person are as follows:
- Intelligent people are good problem solvers
- Possesses deep insight
- They can experience things from someone else’s point of view, so you can say that they are empathetic.
- They embrace solitude and ‘me time’ to unwind and rejuvenate themselves.
- Intelligent people are emotionally intelligent. They have good self-control over their thoughts and emotions.
- They are aware of their life goals and ways to achieve them.
- Intelligent people are good decision-makers.
- They prefer peace of mind than anything else.
- Intelligent people are aware of their skills and abilities.
- They are equally conscious of their setbacks and work to remove their weaknesses.
- Intelligent people are secure—they have a strong self-identity.
- They have multi-tasking abilities.
- They can own mistakes and feels responsible for their own actions.
- Intelligent people are not judgmental. Instead, they prefer to remain flexible to varied ideas and opinions.
- They want to acquire more knowledge because they are deep thinkers with diverse interests.
- Intelligent people crave good books, in-depth conversations, debates, and elocutions.
- Most intelligent people are good public speakers.
- They are self-motivated and self-directed people.
- Intelligent people are good observers and can remember subtle things quite well.
- They have high levels of self-confidence.
- They are peacemakers.
- Intelligent people prefer tolerance and adjustment.
- They respond more and react less.
- They can handle situations very well.
- Intelligent people are aware of their life choices.
- They have a good ability to handle complex emotional situations.
Speaker | Psychotherapist
Intelligent people are often more interested in learning than being smart
There are many characteristics that compile intelligence. There is also a difference between intelligence and a specific area — emotional, financial, or social.
It is surmised that someone with intelligence would also be more successful in these others areas, but that might not always be the case. The most common characteristic of someone intelligent is when the individual has the ability to acquire and retain information.
This is seen in many aspects:
- An overall general and tacit knowledge base
- Typically, someone who is intelligent respects working hard and enjoys this process. Challenging themselves is something they enjoy.
- Good thinking ability and the ability to retain information easily and accurately
- High Lingual skills in both word and verbal
- Good decisive abilities and excellent problem-solving
- Good intuition of situations
- Curiosity and a desire to learn
One of the things that stands out the most to me with someone who is intelligent is a very open thought process to consider lots of thoughts, possibilities, and opinions.
Someone who is highly intelligent is often more interested in learning than being smart.
They are driven to learn, resolve, or create
They realize there is always more to know and are eager to challenge themselves and grow. They are driven to learn, resolve, or create. They are passionate in their pursuit, and they tend to look at all sides.
They are often respectful as they realize everyone has their own talents and experiences.
Life Coach | Founder, Edrio
I have observed that the importance of intelligence is increasing with people being highly attracted to the so-called concept of intelligence. But, what needs to be considered is that intelligence has widened to include numerous traits.
Renowned psychologists and educationists have mentioned different aspects of intelligence, such as logical-mathematical, linguistic, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, practical, analytical, creative, etc.
I feel the concept of intelligence is not limited to what an IQ test measures, i.e., reasoning, memory, problem-solving, and other specific skills. For me, the concept of intelligence is multidimensional and includes mental, emotional, somatic, and intuitive intelligence.
Mental intelligence is also known as intellectual intelligence (IQ). A person with intellectual intelligence has sound reasoning, problem-solving ability, adaptability, and question-based intelligence. In addition, an intellectually intelligent person is a continuous learner with a high retention rate of knowledge or memory.
Mental intelligence has been traditionally related to success in academics and career. Thankfully, educational institutions and companies are now giving importance to EQ training.
A person has emotional intelligence (EQ) if he has empathy towards other people, self-awareness, motivation, self-regulation, social skills, and value for spending time with oneself.
In other words, an emotionally intelligent person can recognize and interpret their own emotions and the feelings of others. In addition, such an intelligent person has leadership, communication, and management qualities.
Interestingly, somatic intelligence, or the ability of an individual to respond to danger and situations, is also considered part of general intelligence. The complex concept of somatic intelligence is concerned with the psycho-emotional-physical ability.
In simple words, I would describe it as a mind-body connection that brings awareness between a stimulus and response. So, a person has somatic intelligence if he is aware of the messages sent to him by his body and his response to situations is conscious.
I describe a person as intuitively intelligent if he can think holistically and paradoxically. An intuitive person can connect with himself and others, enabling him to influence others.
An intelligent person is trusted by people both professionally and personally
Generally, an intelligent person has substantial general knowledge and language proficiency. Apart from good memory and thinking abilities, an intelligent person has a good attitude and is hardworking.
Due to his positive attitude, knowledge, and good decision-making skills, an intelligent person is trusted by people professionally and personally. Therefore, knowingly or unknowingly, people around an intelligent person tend to follow them.
Additionally, an intelligent person is observant and curious about his environment. He can tackle life’s challenges.
An intelligent person has strong interpersonal skills
A person with intelligence has strong interpersonal skills and tends to resolve conflicts and keep the peace.
An intelligent person has the potential to be successful, provided he pursues the field related to his intelligence. Intelligence helps a person introspect and also navigate smoothly in the social world.
Moreover, he is open to new experiences due to his curiosity and willingness to learn, which helps him enhance his skills or intelligence.
On the flip side, a person with very high intelligence may worry, face mental issues, and have difficulty in romantic success. So, it is essential to keep the mind in a positive state, especially for a person with very high intelligence.
I cannot ignore musical and naturalist intelligence, which involves a deep understanding of music and nature. Some people possess existential intelligence that comprises deep sensitivity to questions related to existence’s meaning.
To be honest, it is not about whether a person is intelligent or not, but about his type of intelligence.
So, if not measured by an IQ test, every person has a particular kind of intelligence as the test fails to measure the broader capabilities of a human being. Also, intelligence is only partly genetic, and with practice, one can enhance a specific type of intelligence.
CEO, Seven Figure Agency
Curiosity is a characteristic shared by intelligent individuals
Curiosity is the path to self-improvement and knowledge. In addition, a person who is interested is likely to be a problem solver.
People that are curious want to know why things happen, and if they aren’t pleased with the answers, they will go for solutions in other ways and locations.
Science and medicine have progressed as a result of curiosity. It is the force that propels innovations, art, adventure, and knowledge forward.
Curiosity has several advantages, including:
- arousing interest,
- excitement, and
- a drive to learn more about one’s life.
Curiosity is a characteristic shared by intelligent individuals, and it enriches their life while broadening their perspectives.
An intelligent individual recognizes that humility may aid learning
Curious individuals are aware of and work within their limitations, and they have no qualms with acknowledging when they are wrong.
An intelligent individual, on the other hand, recognizes that humility may aid learning. Intelligent individuals are eager to study and quiz themselves to confirm their comprehension by keeping intellectually modest.
President, OSP International LLC
I often interact with different types of people as a career and education expert. Here’s how to spot the intelligent ones, in my personal opinion.
These people think before they speak out. They don’t just say whatever comes to mind. They’re not too emotional and speak out on point.
Intelligent people are respectful of others and their opinions. They will not interrupt and will act very compassionate with what you have to say before slipping into their point of view.
Disregarding other people isn’t something one of their habits because they’re usually modest.
Not overly self-confident
People with excessive confidence that aren’t willing to learn and grow are not the intelligent ones. People that have the quality of doubting, questioning themselves, and discovering achieve much more.
Intelligent people are open-minded about life. They adjust to different circumstances easily and are better suited to face challenges that life throws their way.
Humor is related to intelligence
We often want leaders to be intelligent, and humor and wit are often the marks of a creative and intelligent person. Being witty is a compliment, and wittiness, indeed humor in general, is directly related to intelligence.
It’s not too hard to see why humor is related to intelligence. One of the hallmarks of the funny is some sort of incongruity. In order to recognize something as funny, we have to see the funny thing as out of the ordinary. We need to see the mismatch.
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” This joke, generally attributed to Groucho Marx, plays on the ambiguity of the words ‘inside‘ and ‘outside.’
In the set-up portion of the joke, ‘outside’ is taken to refer to a sort of relationship of things in a non-spatial sense. The incongruity comes when we read ‘inside’ in the punchline and then interpret it to be a much more specific place designation—inside of the dog. We then reinterpret ‘inside’ and thereby get the joke.
When we learn to see incongruities, when we see more of them, we are exercising our brains.
Being witty is indicative of intelligence
There’s a reason we often refer to people as sharp when it comes to wit. Not only is wit indicative of intelligence, but being witty fast is further indicative of intelligence. If you want to increase your knowledge, understanding why and how jokes work is going to be a great way to boost your mental prowess.
You will start to see patterns and relations that you might normally ignore. That’s the basis of almost any comedy.
Not only are you looking for the reasons the joke works the way it does, but in so doing, you’re learning about different ways people think about and conceptualize the world. This has the added benefit of making you pay more attention to others and how they think.
This is surely a good thing for a leader to do.
So take some time, and look around at the humor you see being used. Try to find out more about it. Push yourself to see more things in the world as incongruous.
Challenge yourself to look deeply at our normal ways of understanding the world. Who knows, you may end up writing your own jokes. You’ll not only have more fun, but you’ll also start increasing your intelligence.
Legal Specialist, Adamson Ahdoot LLP
Intelligent people are good listeners
It’s only from listening to other people that you gain depth, knowledge, and empathy.
Those who talk more than listen usually give superficial answers to questions. Those who listen discover why a person thinks a certain way. They gain perspective through their own experiences and observations.
That’s how a person truly learns about how varied life is and how people go through it, forming their own unique opinions.
Whenever I have a lengthy conversation with someone older than me, I try to find out what that person lived through, what societal changes they witnessed, and what made them into the person they are.
Conversely, when I have a lengthy conversation with a younger person, I’m trying to gauge how inquisitive they are. I want to see someone in their 20s and 30s learn what they can from people who are in their 50s and 60s.
Also, when someone asks me what I think about something, I’ll give as thoughtful an answer as I can. Then I follow up with, “What do you think?” People appreciate that more than someone who simply pontificates or is more concerned with having the final say.
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