10 signs someone is a lot smarter than they appear, according to psychology

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We’re often reminded that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Yet it’s a habit that can be hard to kick.

We can make unfair assumptions that totally miss the mark.

Particularly when it comes to intelligence, appearances can be deceiving.

So let’s check out the signs someone is a lot smarter than they may at first seem.

1) They have great instincts

Gut reactions are a form of intelligence that largely flies under the radar. After all, they happen unconsciously and simply come to us.

As Albert Einstein once noted:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

When you look at the science behind intuition, you start to see why it’s not only a powerful skill but also a sign of intellect.

That’s because those gut feelings are your subconscious mind tapping into a vast store of information it has gathered over the years.

Your conscious mind doesn’t know it, but it’s using your knowledge and experience to steer you.

As pointed out in Forbes:

“That “bad feeling” gnawing away at you is your intuition telling you that no matter how badly you might wish to talk yourself into this direction, it is the wrong way to go. Smart people listen to those feelings. And the smartest people among us – the ones who make great intellectual leaps forward – cannot do this without harnessing the power of intuition.”

2) They listen intently

Being a good listener often gets overlooked simply because it happens in silence.

So you can’t spot the intellect required to be a great active listener. Yet according to psychotherapist Jenny Maenpaa it’s certainly one of the more subtle signs.

She argues that people who “are able to perceive an interaction holistically, rather than just being in the moment and responding to the last thing you said with the first thing they thought of” are usually very clever.

That’s why someone is probably smarter than they appear if they:

  • Listen to you at length
  • Don’t interrupt others when they speak
  • Respond to others by asking more questions (to learn more)

Listening is a really effective method of learning. People who do it well are absorbing information more quickly and accurately.

This allows them to understand complex concepts and engage in meaningful conversations.

3) They’re super curious

Smart people don’t necessarily have a high IQ. They don’t have to be skilled wordsmiths and show off their intellect. There are many ways to be clever.

But what intelligent people do have in common is an interest in the world around them.

In short:

They’re curious.

You may even call it nosey at times. But they are always asking questions, digging deeper, and trying to find out more.

It doesn’t matter what form it takes, but they are constantly seeking new knowledge and experiences.

They have a life-long learner attitude.

This curiosity fuels their intelligence and helps them adapt to new situations, as we’re about to see.

4) Change doesn’t phase them

The reason the ability to adapt is so significant is because we’re hardwired to resist this.

The truth is that our silent programming is often calling the shots. So anyone who can step outside of that frees themselves to make advancements.

As lifestyle entrepreneur Tomas Laurinavicius explains in the Huff Post:

“Genius can be seen as the ability to break free from the predestined, comfortable route when all signs point to the need to change. It’s the absorption of observations without precedent or plans. It’s drawing conclusions and taking a new course of action to outmaneuver the inevitable drawbacks of staying on the same course.

“Everyone and everything alive today is a product of past genius and thus carries the potential for genius going forward.”

Clever people adapt to different environments and challenges. They are flexible and can think on their feet.

5) They can connect the dots

Being able to connect seemingly unrelated ideas is a sign of high intelligence.

They can think in a non-linear way in order to spot patterns.

It can go unnoticed because the working out often happens mentally behind the scenes. But it’s a skill that shows a person’s ability to think critically and creatively.

When someone can bring together different concepts, thoughts, and ideas they are able to see the bigger picture.

The truth is that many of these details need a keen eye to spot, and that’s why many others overlook them.

6) They are sensitive towards others

We’ve all met individuals who seem very smart, largely because we don’t have a clue what they’re talking about most of the time.

But their people skills suck.

Working out a math equation — no problem. Working a room — disastrous.

Navigating relationships is a sign of social intelligence and emotional intelligence.

It turns out smarter people are more prosocial. They want to help, support, care for and cooperate.

So skills that reflect this, like empathy, kindness, and consideration, are also signs of intellect.

7) They’re modest and unassuming

Don’t mistake ego for intellect.

It’s not the people who are showing off that are usually the cleverest.

In fact, in many cases, the smartest people don’t see themselves as intelligent. Research has found it’s those who underestimate their capabilities tend to show greater skill.

This psychological phenomenon known as the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias where those with limited competence overestimate their abilities.

That’s why clever folk:

  • Suffer self-doubt and imposter syndrome
  • Can admit when they are wrong
  • Don’t have an ego or boast about their skills
  • Are happy to say when they don’t know or understand something

8) They’re funny

Humor and intelligence are linked because you have to think fast to be funny.

This is backed up by one study that revealed having a good sense of humor highlights:

  • Intelligence
  • Creativity
  • So-called “good genes”

No wonder it ranks as one of the top traits we look for in a prospective partner.

This link between humor and intelligence is most likely nuanced, as it also helps to make us smarter as pointed out by World Economic Forum:

“Neuropsychological studies have found that experiencing positive emotional states, such as joy, fun and happiness, increases the production of dopamine in the brain.

“Dopamine not only make us feel great, it also opens up the learning centres of the brain, which enables and sustains more neural connections. As a result, we become more flexible and creative in our thinking, and better at solving problems. It also boosts our working memory.”

9) They keep their mouth shut

Just because they’re not getting into heated debates or showing off their knowledge, don’t let that quiet demeanor fool you.

Egotistical people love to brag, condescend, and try to assert themselves.

Sometimes we misread this arrogance as intellect. But the people who are smart often know when to keep their mouths shut.

They prefer to reserve judgment rather than spewing opinions everywhere. They like to be informed before giving their thoughts on matters.

Even when they have strong ideas and beliefs, they don’t always feel the need to impose their views on others.

This is true wisdom:

Having the maturity to know that sometimes silence is more powerful and effective than having the last word.

10) They see both sides

Those people who seemingly sit on the fence in an argument are flexing their intellectual muscles more than you may think.

It’s not that they are necessarily indecisive or lacking conviction in their thoughts.

Being able to play devil’s advocate is a real skill.

It shows you can absorb different viewpoints and allow sometimes contradictory ideas to co-exist — holding space for them both.

The reality is that life and people are never simple.

Being able to appreciate the complexity of truth, rather than trying to reduce and oversimplify it is a sign of heightened intellect.

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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