11 often overlooked signs of genuine intelligence, according to psychology

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What sets a genuinely intelligent person apart? 

It’s more than mathematical ability, verbal intelligence or the traditional markers of IQ. 

In fact, there are a host of reliable signs of genuine intelligence that go beyond simplistic views to examine a person’s overall fluid intelligence, or capacity for learning. 

Psychology has insightful answers about the signs of authentic intelligence that can be seen in exceptionally smart and insightful individuals. 

Let’s dive in and find out! 

1) Curiosity 

High curiosity is a definite marker of higher intelligence among many individuals. 

The attitude of wanting to find out new information, experience new things and meet new people is a vital part of intelligence. 

Studies have shown that keen curiosity correlates with intelligence, and those who always want to know more often end up knowing more. 

As Dr. Diane Hamilton explains

“Personality traits such as curiosity seem to be as important as intelligence in determining how well students do in school. 

In fact, as Einstein said, ‘curiosity is more important than intelligence.’”

2) Creativity

Highly creative people have an immense degree of intelligence. 

This is borne out by various in-depth psychological studies which show that a certain level of IQ is necessary in order to even be a creative person. 

However once that threshold high-IQ is met, intense and remarkable creativity goes beyond the intellectual definition of intelligence. 

It comes about from an ability of highly smart folks to be open and explore new ideas and adventures in art and life. 

As psychological researcher Emanuel Jauk et. al. explain:

“High creative potential is not possible with a low level IQ; but once the intelligence threshold is met, openness may explain to some extent whether the required cognitive disposition is actually turned into high creative potential.”

3) Adaptability 

Highly intelligent people are extremely adaptable

They are able to separate out those aspects of life which are in their control and those which are not. 

They are also able to decide what actions to take when sudden change occurs, including change they may not have expected or wanted. 

This all takes a high degree of genuine, pragmatic intelligence, which is not something everybody has. 

“Adaptability is the extent to which we effectively manage, learn from, and thrive as we face the inevitability of change and it is now recognised as a critical human intelligence,” explains psychologist Patrick Psaila.

4) High EQ

EQ, or emotional intelligence, is increasingly getting the recognition it merits from the psychological and neuroscientific community. 

That’s because the ability to understand and work with one’s own emotions and those of another is a definite and important aspect of intelligence. 

It marks out an individual who is not only intellectually brilliant, but also able to speak the often nonverbal language of emotions, subtext and emotional exchange. 

As psychosocial rehabilitation specialist and psychology educator Kendra Cherry, MS, writes:

“Emotionally intelligent people are not only good at thinking about how other people might feel but they are also adept at understanding their own feelings.”

Which brings me to the next point… 

5) High self-awareness

High self-awareness is another clear marker of intelligence. 

It is like defogging reading glasses or scraping the windshield of a vehicle that is frosted over:

It clarifies everything, leading to much more effective decision-making and actions. 

As organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich writes:

“When we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively.”

6) Humorous

There is a proven link between being funny and being smart. 

“Researchers in Austria recently discovered that funny people, particularly those who enjoy dark humor, have higher IQs than their less funny peers,” notes psychology lecturer Lowri Dowthwaite-Walsh.

The type of individual who has brilliant puns, funny observations and jokes and makes others genuinely laugh out loud is not just your run-of-the-mill funny guy or girl:

He or she is a smartypants. 

It takes real cerebral talent to have a great sense of humor and make others laugh. 

7) Mental resilience

Mental resilience is another marker of higher than average intelligence. 

Those who are able to remain steadfast and strong in the face of challenges tend to have a very high level of intelligence:

They are also able to keep their head when things are going extremely well or when there are many opportunities being offered to them including some that may well be too good to be true. 

This mental resilience is a sign of keeping their cool and their calm center, which takes real intelligence and self-discipline. 

This brings me to the next point: 

8) Critical thinking 

Critical thinking is the willingness and ability to practice empirical analysis. 

It means challenging your own assumptions and those that surround you culturally, socially, politically and so forth. 

Critical thinking means being able to sift out truth claims without automatically believing (or disbelieving them), and is a key marker of very high intelligence. 

As psychology Professor D. Alan Bensley writes:

“Deficiencies in the components of critical thinking (in specific reasoning skills, dispositions, and relevant knowledge) contribute to unsubstantiated belief endorsement in ways that go beyond what standardized intelligence tests test.”

The ability to engage in frequent critical thinking connects directly to the next key marker of above average intelligence. 

9) Outthinking binaries

The highly intelligent individual is able to think beyond black-and-white binaries. 

They don’t necessarily support the red team or the blue team, they aren’t necessarily left wing or right wing, they treat thought-terminating cliches with skepticism. 

They want to know the truth, and they’re very aware that the truth often lies beyond satisfying or easy answers that divide the world up in a way which is convenient or reassuring to us. 

This means they rarely, if ever, engage in what’s known psychologically as “splitting” or thinking in binary terms.

“Simply put, ‘splitting’ is a defense mechanism in which people unconsciously frame ideas, individuals, or groups in all-or-nothing terms (e.g., all-good vs. all-bad or all-powerful vs. 100% powerless),” points out psychologist Andrew Hartz.

10) Brutal honesty

Brutal honesty isn’t always pleasant, but it can save a lot of time and be quite helpful. 

Those who are highly intelligent are often brutally honest. 

They say what they really think even if it’s not necessarily popular or politically correct:

They’re smart enough to know about being tactful and not being rude or offensive, but they also aren’t afraid to sometimes drop the honest truth even when it’s inconvenient. 

11) Openness to new ideas

This circles back around to the first point:

Curiosity and wanting to know new things and new ideas is a key marker of genuine intelligence.

Even if somebody ultimately disagrees with a new idea or finds it incorrect or faulty, their openness to hearing other perspectives and concepts speaks well to their intelligence and capacity for intelligence. 

Working with new ideas and analyzing all sorts of concepts (even faulty or delusional concepts) is a key marker of intelligence. 

The truth about genuine intelligence

The truth about genuine intelligence is that it comes in many forms. Somebody may be mathematically obtuse but creatively brilliant, or extremely emotionally intelligent but have low verbal intelligence. 

Intelligence comes in many types, but always manifests itself through remarkable traits and behaviors that can be gleaned from the signs above. 

Ultimately, the genuinely intelligent person doesn’t feel better than anybody else: He or she recognizes the multi-faceted nature of brain power. 

Indeed, genuine intelligence comes in many forms, all equally valuable and remarkable depending upon the situation and what they’re being used for. 

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