10 little-known body language signs that signal high intelligence

High IQ scores, above-average GPAs, or academic honors are among the hallmarks of high intelligence.

Then again, we all know that top marks aren’t the sole measure of one’s brilliance. 

Certain traits like inquisitiveness, adaptability, and openness, are also considered markers that an individual is smart.

And because intelligence is a multifaceted concept, its indicators can’t be confined to test results and characteristic traits. 

A prime example is body language. 

Did you know that certain gestures often give away clues about a person’s level of smartness?

If wondering how, here are 10 little-known body language signs that signal high intelligence:

1) Maintaining good eye contact

I remember being taught as a child to always look the person in the eye whenever you’re talking or listening to them.

I was told doing this was a sign of respect towards the speaker.

But it turns out there’s more to it than being polite.

Research says people who hold good eye contact tend to be smarter.

Someone’s ability to keep their eyes fixed on the speaker could be a sign of their sharp brains working extremely fast to connect the dots.

In short, this body language isn’t just about seeing eye to eye. It’s also like saying:

“I’m here, I’m listening, and I get it.”

2) Having a “tall” posture

Another thing drilled into me in my younger years was to always stand and sit tall. 

If you were also told the same, our parents may have been onto something all along.

It appears that there’s more to maintaining a good posture than making us look poised and confident. It could also be a sign of – or a contributor to – being smarter.

This conclusion was from an experiment in 2015 comparing the effects posture had on robots and babies when learning a word or an object.

What’s really interesting is that how infants or robots held their bodies played a massive part in how well they learned the new information presented to them. 

So, if you or someone you know has always sat or stood tall, it could be more than just a habit instilled in you since childhood. 

It might actually be a subtle sign of your intelligence

3) Leaning in on conversations

But if you think about it, wouldn’t it be awkward if we were to adopt a stiff and constant sitting or standing tall position? That would just make us look like robots (and super weird). 

Thankfully, leaning in from time to time is also another body language pointing to intelligence. 

This is especially true if you’re doing it to zone in on what the other person has to say.

Here’s why:

When we do this, we’re manifesting curiosity, which is arguably a trait indicative of superior intelligence.

Have you ever noticed how children lean towards a TV show they’re interested in? 

It’s the purest form of curiosity and a natural sign of developing intellect.

4) Attentive silence

What if I told you that leaning in isn’t the only body language intelligent people use to show their curiosity?

Some resort to using the sound of their silence to indicate they’re really into something. 

So don’t be too quick to take someone’s silence as a sign that they’re not interested. 

You shouldn’t also quickly assume they’re not saying a word because they disagree with you.

For all you know, the reason they’re sitting back quietly is so they can use a combination of their observation and listening skills to take in everything you’re saying.

Take Jiddue Krishnamurti’s word for it:

“Observation without evaluation is the highest form of intelligence.”

5) Head tilt

Another non-verbal cue of intelligence is the head tilt. 

It may seem like a random movement when someone tilts their head, but it’s actually a good indication that they’re:

a) really engaged in the conversation, especially if tilting their head towards the speaker. Or:

b) they’re thinking deeply (if they’re alone).

When you’re talking to someone and they tilt their head towards you, take it as a compliment. 

This easily missed non-verbal cue indicates they’re not just there to passively listen. 

Instead, it reflects their inquisitive nature and willingness to actively understand your insight and analyze the information you are presenting. 

Simply put, the head tilt is a subtle sign that someone is observant, curious, and, therefore, intelligent.

6) Thoughtful nodding


Nodding thoughtfully is another simple and subtle body language that reflects active engagement and, thus, intelligence. 

And that’s not all:

Thoughtful nodding is also a good indicator of one’s comprehension, which is closely related to cognitive ability.

Let’s pause for a moment to zoom in on the terminology: thoughtful nodding. 

Thoughtful is the operative word.

What does this mean?

Before you assume that someone is deeply involved in the conversation, observe the timing of their nods.

Does it align with what you’re saying as if to say “I see” or “I agree”?

Or do they nod randomly throughout the conversation to the point that their nods don’t make sense?

If it’s the former, they’re likely genuinely invested in your dialogue. 

Unfortunately, if it’s the latter, they might just be on auto response mode – nodding to be polite and pretend they’re following along. 

7) Talking with their hands

They may look silly, but people who talk with animated hand gestures could actually be geniuses. 

This 2011 German study explains why:

Individuals who are really good at fluid intelligence, or the skill of solving complex problems, often use hand gestures to match what they’re thinking about.

Think of it this way:

These gestures are their hands’ way of drawing pictures in the air to help them visualize the solution better. 

This means that the next time you encounter someone talking and doing lots of hand movements at the same time, it’s possible you are sharing a conversation with an intellectual. 

8) Wandering eyes

Now let’s move away from the hands and focus on the eyes.

Do you ever notice people looking as if they’re lost in space with their absent gaze?

Those blank stares are a telltale sign of daydreaming.

But before you start assuming they’re slacking off, check this out:

Experts say that daydreaming is one of those lesser-known signs of high IQ.

They say that the daydreamers’ brains are structured differently, particularly the part that helps with complex thinking, making them brilliant at problem-solving.

So when you see someone lost in thought, take it as a “do not disturb sign”. 

Don’t interrupt and allow them to finish their brain workout.

9) Larger pupil size

If we’re being strict, this next one technically isn’t body language, but I’ll throw it in the mix anyway seeing that we’re already on the topic of eyes.

Fun fact: 

Someone’s eyes might give a clue of how smart they are.

This is according to researchers who have discovered that people with bigger pupils tend to do better at solving puzzles, focusing on tasks, and keeping track of information. 

But don’t get me wrong, the research doesn’t suggest that people with small pupils aren’t smart. 

And it’s also not implying all large pupils point to intelligence. 

So before you get too excited, it’s extremely important to pay close attention to this:

Large pupils can be caused by many things: medications, injury, specific emotions, or underlying medical conditions. 

But if there’s one takeaway from this discovery, it’s that even the most subtle details can reveal much about people. 

10) Raising eyebrows

From the pupils, let’s move higher and focus on the eyebrows.

Raising eyebrows is sometimes frowned upon because it can be interpreted as skepticism or judgment. 

But here’s a positive spin:

Brow raising can also be considered a subtle sign of intelligence because it can signify one’s curious mind. 

As we already touched on earlier, it’s already well-established that curiosity is a significant indicator of intelligence.

So the next time someone raises their eyebrows at you, keep calm and avoid reacting until you’ve taken things into context. 

You might be surprised to learn that their brow motion is them saying, “Interesting; tell me more.”

Subtle smarts are everywhere – if you know how to look

Contrary to popular belief, the loudest person in the room may not always be the smartest. 

The above list is proof of this, highlighting how intelligence can also be manifested in the often overlooked, more subtle body language signs.

Now that you know what to look for, make it a habit to try and spot the quiet ways people display their intelligence. 

Finally, let’s wrap things up with wisdom from Eckhart Tolle:

“True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.”

Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah is a full-time mum, wife, and nurse on hiatus turned freelance writer. She is on a journey of diving deeper into life through life itself and uses her writing to share the lessons learned along the way. When not on her computer, she enjoys time with her family strolling along the Gold Coast's stunning beaches and captivating hinterland.

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