8 classic signs of a highly intelligent person, according to psychology

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How do you know if a person is brilliant?

I guess we all have our own little litmus tests that, when people pass, make us think, “Wow, this person’s highly intelligent!”

The only problem with that is what impresses me might not impress you. I’m interested in history, and when I hear someone give a correct date for a major event, my ears perk up, and I think, “Brilliant!”

But in reality, all this actually means is that they know about that one event or maybe a bit more about history. It might show they have a good memory, but that’s about it.

This is why psychologists use standardized tests and methods to determine just how intelligent people are. They base most of their findings on IQ tests and then see how they relate back to other behaviors.

So if you want to be able to pick out the geniuses from the rest, train yourself to look for these eight classic signs of a highly intelligent person, according to what psychology has discovered.

1) A high score on an IQ test

What’s a more classic sign of intelligence than a high IQ?

These tests have been around for over 100 years and have been consistently refined and polished by countless experts to help accurately represent general intelligence, also known as the “g factor.”

Nope, nothing to do with gangstas.

IQ, or intelligence quotient, tests are designed to “measure people’s cognitive functioning, including (but not limited to) verbal, mathematical, and visuospatial reasoning, memory, attention, and language comprehension and production.”

They look at both crystallized intelligence and the facts and procedures a person has memorized. They also make people use fluid intelligence, their ability to apply what they know, and their ability to reason to solve novel problems.

It’s important to understand that IQ test scores are normalized. 

Just like a bell curve used for grades in school, the raw scores of IQ tests are adjusted so that 100 is right in the middle and 85-114 represents the range of average human intelligence.

Someone scoring 115 and up is considered above average. Above 130 is a moderately gifted person. 

People’s IQs are about 50% inherited. The rest comes down to nutrition, socioeconomic status, and other environmental components.

These tests also don’t test for what we might call “multiple intelligences” or different components of intelligence like linguistic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, and other skills.

They generally look at just rational, mathematical, concrete, and logical skills. Other lesser-known tests have to be designed for psychologists to measure how people perform in those other important areas of life.

2) Bookworminess

If you think about all the classic representations of smart people you’ve ever seen on TV and in movies, what’s one thing that they’re almost always seen doing?

I’m sure this section title gave it away, but I’m talking about reading.

It’s a simple rule of screen magic – if you want a character to seem smart, put them in a library surrounded by stacks of books and have them use big words.

The reason that works, though, is because it’s a stereotype that’s based on reality. 

According to a rigorous study that compared identical twins, the twin that reads more will score higher on an IQ test than the other. Unsurprisingly, the one who reads more will also have better reading skills than the other.

If this is true for twins who share the same genes and are growing up in the same environment, it means that reading really is a factor in intelligence.

But it begs the question: does reading make you smart, or do smart people like to read more?

There’s no conclusive answer there, I’m afraid, but I suspect it goes both ways!

3) Great writing skills

Now that Chat GPT5 is nearing release, humans may never have to learn to write again.

Or perhaps AI will take a lot longer than anyone predicts to write similarly enough to a human to convince us.

But for now, writing is still a very human skill that requires a certain level of intelligence to master.

Sure, we all learn our ABCs in school, but few people end up being really great at forming great sentences into super paragraphs and shaping them into readable prose. You need to be able to handle the mechanics of writing but also use logic to arrange your ideas in a way that conveys your ideas effectively.

“Yeah, right!” I hear you say dismissively. “You’re just going on and on about writing because you’re a writer.”

Touché.

But I also have a study to back me up!

Researchers found a strong correlation between writing ability, grammatical competence, and verbal-linguistic intelligence.

So I’m smart, and you’re not. Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah!

4) Burning curiosity

It probably comes as no surprise that highly intelligent people are often very curious.

Think about it – bright people can figure things out quickly. They can solve puzzles that take the rest of us months.

All this means that they can go through experiencing what the world has to offer faster than the rest of us. I guess that also means they might run out of familiar experiences to understand and learn about quickly.

In simpler terms, they need to experience new things constantly to feed their curiosity about the world.

According to studies, bright people seem to really enjoy acquiring new knowledge “elicited by new and complex ideas or conceptual ambiguities.” In fact, it could be that curiosity makes people smart and not the other way around.

It drives people to reason and acquire knowledge, which may then build intelligence.

5) Staying up late

I was just as surprised as you to learn that staying up late is actually one of the classic signs of a highly intelligent person, according to psychology.

If you’d asked me, I would have said that staying up late is for party animals and phone addicts. Or naughty children.

But according to research, it’s the brightest among us who prefer to stay up after dark.

This study found that the lower a person’s IQ, the sooner they go to bed on average. And people who are bright and very bright tend to stay up at least a little bit later.

Does this mean that highly intelligent people don’t need to sleep as much? Have they discovered some way to sleep more efficiently?

Not at all.

The people who stayed up later simply woke up later in the morning. So, rather than being related to an amount of sleep, the findings show that nocturnal activities are preferred by smarter people.

If you know a night owl, they might be up late because they’re extra smart!

6) Darker sense of humor

If smarter people are staying up later at night, does that account for why they tend to enjoy dark humor more than less intelligent people?

I’m not sure anyone has investigated this connection yet, but what researchers have found is that intelligent people appreciate humor with dark elements more than people who aren’t as bright.

This study discovered strong links between these two factors.

They found that people who appreciated dark humor more also understood it better. These people also had fewer mood disturbances and lower aggressiveness.

It seems like being able to find humor in dark subjects suggests deeper thought and the ability to take on different perspectives. 

7) Worrying

Another classic sign of intelligence is one that’s not positive like the others we’ve seen so far.

One character we might think about when we think of really bright people is the disturbed genius, someone who’s nervous and worries a lot.

Well, this makes sense if we’re talking about people who think a lot. If they think about all the dangerous, negative things in the world, they can certainly find reasons to worry.

And according to research, they do.

But there’s a catch –people who have both high IQs and anxiety disorder will worry a lot more than normal.

On the other hand, it was found that those people who have high IQs but don’t suffer from anxiety disorders worry less than the average person.

8) Mind wandering

One more classic sign of high intelligence can be recognized in the character of the daydreaming genius.

This is someone whose mind wanders from topic to topic so that they can seem like they’re somewhat detached from reality.

And indeed, they can be.

Research has shown that people whose minds wander a lot have higher levels of fluid intelligence as well as creativity. They seem to have more connections between different regions of their brains so that more of their intelligence can be activated when they’re thinking about problems.

In other words, they daydream!

Signs of high intelligence

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar?

These eight classic signs of a highly intelligent person, according to psychology, can help you identify someone who’s truly brilliant.

They might even describe you.

Once you can recognize them, you can stop with the guesswork – you’ll know who the bright ones are!

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