9 signs someone is genuinely smart, according to psychology

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

It’s not always about the highest IQ or the best grades. Real intelligence, as psychology tells us, comes down to subtle signs that are often overlooked.

Being genuinely smart isn’t about being a human calculator, it’s about understanding others, solving problems creatively and having attuned emotional intelligence.

Psychology also suggests that truly smart people exhibit certain behaviors and traits that set them apart.

In this article, we’ll dig into these 9 signs that indicate someone is genuinely smart. No jargon, no fluff – just straight to the point insights.

Let’s break down what makes a person truly intelligent.

1) Curiosity

If you’ve ever watched a toddler exploring their surroundings, you’ve seen curiosity in action. However, as we grow older, not everyone retains this innate desire to learn and understand. Yet, for the truly smart, this curiosity doesn’t dwindle.

Psychology tells us that intelligence is not just about knowing things. It’s about wanting to know more. Genuine intelligence is often linked with an insatiable curiosity about the world. It’s this relentless quest for knowledge that drives smart people to dig deeper, ask questions and seek answers.

If you see someone who’s constantly asking ‘why’ and ‘how’, don’t dismiss them as annoying. They might just be one of the genuinely smart ones. This trait underlines a thirst for knowledge, a love of learning, and an open mind – all key indicators of true intelligence.

It’s not just about asking questions. It’s also about actively seeking answers, exploring different viewpoints and making connections between seemingly unrelated things. That’s what genuine intelligence looks like.

2) Adaptability

Another sign of genuine intelligence is adaptability. Smart people are able to roll with the punches and adjust their strategies when necessary. They’re not rigid in their thinking or their approaches. Instead, they’re flexible, open to change and ready to pivot when the situation calls for it.

Now, let me share a personal example. Last year, I had planned a well-detailed itinerary for a month-long trip to Europe. But, as it often happens with life, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Flights were missed, reservations got mixed up and the weather didn’t cooperate on several occasions.

But instead of letting these hiccups ruin the trip, I adapted. I found alternative flights, discovered new places to stay and even enjoyed some unplanned adventures. It was in these moments of unexpected change that I truly enjoyed my trip.

That’s adaptability in action. When faced with difficulties, genuinely smart people can think on their feet and find solutions.

They see change not as a setback but as an opportunity for growth and learning. And that’s a surefire sign of intelligence.

3) Emotional intelligence

Genuine intelligence isn’t just about logical reasoning and problem-solving abilities. It also involves being attuned to emotions – both your own and those of others. This is where emotional intelligence comes into play.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions in positive ways. It’s about empathy, self-awareness, and social skills. And contrary to what some may believe, it’s just as important as IQ in determining overall intelligence.

A study conducted by TalentSmart found that 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence. They’re able to navigate social complexities and manage personal and professional relationships judiciously and empathetically.

If you come across someone who can read the room, understands unspoken feelings, and responds appropriately to the emotions of others, chances are they exhibit genuine intelligence. This ability to connect with others on an emotional level is a hallmark of true smartness.

4) Critical thinking

The ability to think critically is a distinctive trait of genuinely smart people. They don’t just accept information at face value. Instead, they analyze, evaluate, and question until they fully understand.

Critical thinking involves discerning the truth from falsehood, fact from opinion, and logic from fallacy. It’s a mindset that refuses to settle for superficial understanding and instead digs deeper to get to the root of issues.

Smart people use critical thinking to make sound decisions. They weigh pros and cons, consider different perspectives, and arrive at conclusions based on thorough analysis. This allows them to solve problems more effectively and make more informed decisions.

If you notice someone who doesn’t jump to conclusions, who takes their time to understand a situation or problem fully before making a decision or forming an opinion, you’re likely dealing with a genuinely smart person.

Their critical thinking skills set them apart as individuals who value depth over speed in their thought process.

5) Open-mindedness

Open-mindedness is a key indicator of genuine intelligence. Smart people understand that they don’t know everything and that the world is full of knowledge waiting to be discovered. They’re open to new experiences, different perspectives, and fresh ideas.

Being open-minded means being receptive to all possibilities. It involves questioning your own beliefs and being willing to reconsider them in the light of new information. Smart people know that growth comes from stepping out of their comfort zone and embracing the unknown.

If you find someone who’s always ready to listen to others, who respects differing opinions, and is willing to change their mind when presented with compelling evidence, chances are they’re genuinely smart.

Their open-mindedness allows them to learn, grow, and evolve continuously – a true sign of intelligence.

6) Humility

Humility is an often overlooked, yet crucial sign of genuine intelligence. Truly smart people understand that there’s always more to learn, and they’re not afraid to admit when they’re wrong or when they don’t know something.

This humility stems from a deep understanding that knowledge is infinite and that everyone we meet can teach us something. It’s about acknowledging our limitations and being open to learning from others, regardless of their status or position.

I’ve seen it firsthand in some of the most intelligent people I know. They listen more than they speak, ask thoughtful questions, and are always receptive to new insights. They recognize the value in every person’s unique perspective and experiences.

It’s actually a sign of profound intelligence. Because knowing what you don’t know is a form of wisdom in itself.

7) Resilience

Resilience is a powerful trait of genuinely smart people. It’s the ability to bounce back from setbacks, to keep going in the face of adversity, and to not let failure or disappointment deter them from their goals.

A few years ago, I had a dream of launching my own startup. I poured everything into it – time, money, energy – but despite my best efforts, it didn’t take off. I was devastated and felt like a complete failure. But after allowing myself some time to grieve, I picked myself up and tried again. This time, I learned from my mistakes and eventually found success.

This ability to persevere, to learn from failure rather than be defeated by it, is a hallmark of true intelligence. It shows a deep understanding that failure is not the end but rather a stepping stone towards success.

Their resilience is proof of their ability to adapt, learn and grow – key aspects of intelligence.

8) Self-discipline

Self-discipline is a characteristic often found in genuinely smart people. It’s the ability to control one’s feelings, overcome obstacles, and persist in achieving long-term goals.

Intelligence isn’t just about learning quickly and efficiently. It’s also about being able to stay focused, manage time effectively, and follow through on tasks until they’re completed. These are all traits that require a high degree of self-discipline.

Smart people understand the importance of consistency and hard work in achieving success. They’re not easily distracted or swayed by immediate gratification. Instead, they stay committed to their goals and do what needs to be done, even when it’s difficult or less appealing.

If you notice someone who exhibits self-discipline consistently, whether it’s sticking to a rigorous study schedule, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, or pursuing their passion despite challenges, you’re likely observing a genuinely smart individual.

Their self-discipline showcases their ability to control impulses, delay gratification and stay focused on what truly matters – all signs of true intelligence.

9) Lifelong learning

The most significant sign of genuine intelligence is the pursuit of lifelong learning. Smart people never stop learning. They’re always seeking to broaden their knowledge, improve their skills, and understand the world around them better.

Intelligence is not a fixed attribute. It’s a journey of constant growth and development. Whether it’s reading books, attending workshops, or exploring new ideas, smart people are constantly feeding their minds. They know that learning doesn’t stop once they leave school; it’s a lifelong endeavor.

So if you come across someone who’s always seeking to learn, who shows an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a genuine passion for personal growth, know that you’re in the presence of genuine intelligence.

Their commitment to lifelong learning is the most profound testament to their intelligence.

Reflecting on intelligence

The understanding and interpretation of intelligence have evolved over the years. It’s no longer confined to the realm of IQ scores, academic achievements, or mathematical prowess.

In fact, as we’ve seen, genuine intelligence manifests in diverse ways – from insatiable curiosity to emotional maturity, from resilience to a continual thirst for knowledge.

Psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences reinforces this perspective. He suggests that our intelligence is not a single, fixed attribute but a combination of various distinct intelligences. This includes linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic intelligence.

So as you encounter people in your life who exhibit these signs of genuine intelligence, take a moment to appreciate the multifaceted nature of their smartness. And remember that every interaction is an opportunity to learn and grow.

After all, as Albert Einstein once said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

So let’s keep learning, growing and evolving in our understanding of what it truly means to be intelligent.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

If you recognize these 9 behaviors, your partner is hiding something from you

If you want to become a happy and productive person, start doing these 10 things every morning