9 signs of a highly intelligent person that are often overlooked

Douglas Adams once said, “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”

The key to intelligence lies in that very sentence – it’s all about the desire to understand, analyze, and solve problems rather than live in a blissful state of not caring.

Sure, intelligence is partly about IQ. But it’d be a shame to boil all complexities of intelligence into something as simple as one number.

After all, those who always seek to understand more about the world are intelligent in ways that matter most – curiosity, self-awareness, and critical thinking, just to name a few.

These are the 9 signs of a highly intelligent person that are often overlooked.

1) They doubt their own intelligence

Strangely enough, intelligent people are more likely to doubt their own capabilities.

This is because they understand how much knowledge there is in the world, and the more they learn, the more that understanding expands – kind of like zooming in endlessly.

No one said it better than the philosopher Socrates: “All I know is that I know nothing.”

Those who aren’t very intelligent, on the other hand, may sometimes suffer from the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect, which means they overestimate their capabilities because they can’t see just how much they don’t know.

It’s all about perspective.

2) They have great memory skills

What is it about Sherlock Holmes that fascinates us so much?

Well, apart from the amazing performance of Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s Sherlock’s innate ability to remember all information he comes across. His head is kind of like a huge library full of useful knowledge.

He’s also very clever, and as it turns out, studies have shown there is a strong link between working memory and intelligence. Both are connected to high-level cognitive abilities, not to mention that remembering lots of stuff also gives you a broader framework from which to draw conclusions.

And while we’re talking about frameworks…

3) They see patterns and connections

Pattern recognition is a vital aspect of intelligence – it’s what allows us to approach a singular issue with a broad understanding of the context, helping us connect the dots and turn into amazing problem-solvers.

An intelligent person will keep both the overarching framework and all the small nuances in mind, allowing for a more subtle and careful problem-solving process.

They see the forest as a large unit of trees and the trees as connected components of the forest.

As Robert C. Barkman, Ph.D. says: “Recognizing a pattern is like looking through a telescope for the first time. As if with new eyes, you see things that you have never seen before.”

4) They’re highly adaptable

One of the reasons humans adapt to new environments so easily is that we are intelligent enough to do so. This is called “adaptive intelligence” – once in new circumstances, people can not only survive but also thrive.

Therefore, highly intelligent people often tend to find new solutions to old problems or come up with ideas and inventions that haven’t been thought of before.

When you throw an obstacle in their path, they won’t run. Instead, they’ll put their brains to work, look for different ways of overcoming the challenge, and eventually find their way out of the labyrinth.

5) Their curiosity knows no limits

George R. R. Martin wrote, “Why is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what’s on the other side?”

This is a great example of human curiosity. We simply always want to know what lies beyond the horizon – even more so when you’re very smart.

A highly intelligent person will keep asking questions, contemplating new ideas, and wondering about the mysteries of the universe until the day they leave this world behind.

They’ll simply never let go of their childlike wonder.

No matter if they’re thinking about why the sky is blue, how microfossils are classified, or how different kinds of bread are made, they are always on a quest to understand the world in more depth.

It’s very beautiful.

6) Their creative thinking is through the roof

According to the threshold hypothesis by Guilford and Christensen, high creativity requires above-average or high intelligence. Below-average intelligence makes it very difficult to think creatively, hindering your problem-solving process and your ability to come up with unique ideas.

If you’re wondering whether someone’s very intelligent, creativity is therefore one of the best things to watch out for. Are they good at art? And if not, are they approaching problems in original ways that demonstrate out-of-the-box thinking?

In its essence, creativity is about looking at the world as it is and seeing all the different ways we can recreate it. It’s about thinking of new ideas, figuring out how to transfer them into the real world, and improving them whenever an issue occurs.

It’s the necessary building block of invention.

7) They are emotionally intelligent

Intelligence isn’t just about logic. It’s not just about creativity. It’s not just about problem-solving, either.

It’s a mix of all three, plus a whole lot of other things – such as self-awareness and keeping your emotions in check.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Daniel Goleman’s theory of emotional intelligence, which comprises five different aspects – self-awareness, emotional regulation, social skills, motivation, and empathy.

Yes, that’s right. Intelligent people aren’t just great at maths or memorizing entire encyclopedias. They’re also those who know themselves extremely well, process their emotions in healthy ways, and communicate with respect and assertiveness.

In other words, they are not only intelligent – they are also wise. And as Lao-Tzu said:

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”

8) They see through people

Remember the fifth aspect of emotional intelligence?

Empathy is what allows you to understand other people’s experiences, have thriving relationships, and see the world in full color. However, there’s even more to it than that – empathy also serves to reveal people for who they really are.

When you’re in tune with your environment and your intuition, you’re not easily fooled.

Your gut instinct tells you when someone pretends to be nice but has malicious intentions or when people aren’t exactly what they seem.

It’s a bit like your own secret superpower.

9) They’re great at personal growth

According to one study, high IQ is positively correlated with self-acceptance, thriving personal relationships, personal growth, and having a sense of purpose in life. And when you have high EQ (emotional intelligence), you’re also likely to feel a high sense of autonomy.


Before we get too carried away, though, it’s important to note that your socioeconomic status plays a vital role. Based on the study, it is largely the social status and financial opportunities available to people with high IQ that lead to higher well-being.

What’s more, emotional intelligence apparently influences your well-being the most – even more so than your socioeconomic circumstances.

This only goes to show how important emotional wisdom is.

You could very well be a chess genius, but if your friend can regulate their emotions and is motivated to live a good life while you lack self-awareness, empathy, and coping skills, they might have a higher chance at happiness and personal growth than you.

So, on a final note…wisdom is one of the highest forms of intelligence. Cultivate it and thrive.

Denisa Cerna

Hi! I’m a fiction author and a non-fiction freelance writer with a passion for personal development, mental health, and all things psychology. I have a graduate degree in Comparative Literature MA and I spend most of my time reading, travelling, and – shocker – writing. I’m always on a quest to better understand the inner workings of the human mind and I love sharing my insights with the world. If any of my articles change your life for the better… mission accomplished.
Get in touch at denisacerna.writing@gmail.com or find me on LinkedIn.

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