15 signs someone is actually really smart, according to psychology

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Unpopular opinion:

Intelligence quotient (IQ) scores are an outdated measure of how smart someone really is. 

This is not to invalidate the intelligence of high-IQ individuals. 

If anything, it’s meant to broaden our view of intelligence, embracing a better understanding of what it means to be truly smart.

It’s less about tests, numbers, and letters and more about the different ways people think, learn, and excel.

That said, let’s look at the different ways you can tell someone is extremely intelligent, according to psychologists:

1) They have a great sense of humor 

We all love a good laugh.

But what if I told you that our laughter is more than just a reaction to someone’s good joke – it also complements the person’s intelligence? 

If you don’t buy it, here’s the science to prove it:

Research from 2010 has uncovered that someone’s ability to craft clever jokes is closely linked to their overall intelligence and verbal skills.

Think about it:

It takes quick thinking and an absolutely brilliant mind for comedians to come up with punchlines impromptu.

And if we’re not calling that smart, what should we call it?

2) They’re into dark humor

On the topic of humor, there are many things traditionally associated with dark humor, but smart certainly isn’t at the top of the list.

But it should be – at least according to research conducted by a group of Austrian neurologists and psychologists.

They found that people who enjoy and understand twisted jokes typically excel in verbal and non-verbal tests.

And that’s not all. 

Apparently, people with a thing for dark humor also exhibit lower levels of gloominess and aggression.

How’s that for breaking stereotypes?

3) They have self-discipline

Did you know that self-discipline beats IQ as a predictor for success?

That’s according to research conducted by academic and psychologist, Angela Duckworth and her colleagues.

Their study highlighted that children’s ability to stick to rules and resist impulsive behavior can play a significant role in how well they do at school – even more than their IQ!

This just goes to show self-discipline is one of those often overlooked signs of true smarts.

4) They have impressive self-control

With self-discipline comes self-control.

And with self-control also comes a high level of smarts. 

Psychologists from Yale University studied 103 adults and their responses to financial rewards. 

They found that those who were better at controlling themselves scored the highest on the intelligence tests. 

Clearly, it adds to the idea that intelligence is not just about someone’s IQ tests, but also about how well they handle themselves.

5) They’re emotionally intelligent

Psychologists believe that high emotional intelligence now holds more value in workplaces than a high IQ. 

Apparently, there was a point where IQ was their only measure of intelligence. 

But these days, employers now zoom in on a different kind of smarts when looking to hire someone new:

They look for someone adept at relating to others and reacting to stressful situations effectively. 

In other words, their standards of smarts are emotional intelligence and IQ – in that particular order.

6) They are adaptable

According to the Australian Psychological Society, adaptability is an essential skill for tackling the complex changes in today’s world, making it a contemporary marker of intelligence.

They point out that various industries worldwide will undoubtedly undergo transformations, and these changes will demand that individuals become more adaptable.

They affirm that an individual’s ability to adjust their thoughts, emotional responses, and behavior to these continuous shifts is crucial not only for survival, but also for success. 

There you go – yet another confirmation that smartness in the modern world isn’t just about knowledge.

7) They are self-aware

Speaking of change,it’s not only inevitable. It’s everywhere.

This is why Organizational Psychologist Dr Bob Rosen thinks being conscious is the new smart.

He believes that self-awareness is part of consciousness, allowing individuals to take a new approach to learning and leading in this fast-changing world.

He describes going deep into self-awareness taps into your inner wisdom, or your inherent intelligence and sensibility. And this practice gives individuals the confidence they need to “adapt, transform, and accelerate into the future.”

8) They’re open to exploring new ideas

Intelligent people are highly self-aware to know that they don’t know everything. 

This causes them to become open-minded, which is a telltale sign of a genuinely smart person.

A feature from the American Psychological Association proves this, suggesting that people who are open-minded enough to explore new experiences or ideas excel at thinking on their feet and solving new problems.

In short, an open mind = a smart mind.

9) They are extremely curious

Let’s piggyback on that equation and add more:

Open mind = curious mind = smart mind.

Experts agree that curiosity is one of the hallmarks of real intelligence and could even predict one’s success in life.

They confirm that people display intelligence through curiosity when they ask lots of questions, chase after thrilling experiences, seek out sensations, and make time to explore new ideas.

It turns out Oliver Jeffers was spot on when he said, “Curiosity is the surest sign of intelligence.”

10) They’re comfortable with uncertainty

One would assume that smart people tend to want to know as much as possible because they are inherently curious.

But here’s what a lot of people fail to realize:

Truly intelligent individuals are okay with not knowing everything.

And that’s not just my assumption. 

A study has actually been done about this, and it found that smarter individuals are comfortable with not knowing the answers right away. 

As much as they’re curious, they’re also aware that not all questions have immediate answers.

11) They daydream

The common misconception is that daydreaming is a sign of laziness. 

But a team of neuropsychologists have proven otherwise.

Their study in 2015 found that daydreamer’s brains are wired differently.

They have stronger networks in the parts of their brain that deal with complex thinking.

They also found that people who often daydream have higher scores on tests measuring creativity and intelligence.

Daydreaming sounds even more enticing now, doesn’t it?

12) They’re prone to mood swings

Here’s something interesting:

Your frequent shifts in mood may be a sign that you’re actually really smart. 

According to research conducted in 2015, adults who experienced mood disorders scored really high on their IQ tests as kids.

And that’s not all. 

Another recent study revealed that geniuses are more prone to mood swings than others. 

That said, it’s important to remember that frequent mood swings may also be a sign of an underlying medical condition. 

If you suspect you might be dealing with a mood disorder, please consider seeking advice from a qualified mental health expert to ensure you get an accurate diagnosis and suitable support.

13) They know when to take a risk

Who would have thought that the amount of risk someone takes is closely linked to how smart they are?

Experts looked into the link between intelligence and risk preference and found that smart people are good at discerning risks.

Because they combine their knack for numbers with their problem-taking and decision-making skills, they’re better able to identify whether a risk is good or bad and thus, are able to dodge potentially unfavourable risks. 

It turns out there’s more to risk-taking than gut feeling – it takes a bit of smarts, too! 

14) They’re great at deciphering patterns

According to psychologists, people who are great at recognizing patterns are intelligent.

And they don’t limit this to recognizing patterns in numbers. In fact, they’ve divided the smarts of recognizing patterns into subcategories:

  • Numbers smart – people who can predict from a series of numbers
  • Word smart – people who can point out what words have in common
  • Visually smart – people who can visualize an object in 3D
  • Nature smart – people who recognize species of birds just by looking at their flight pattern
  • People smart – people who are great at decoding the meaning between human behavior patterns

Mind you, the list above isn’t exhaustive. You may be pattern-smart and just don’t realize it.

Take it from the experts: “Everyone has the potential to be pattern smart, but in different ways.”

15) They excel at critical thinking

Another way to tell if someone is really smart is by observing if they have critical thinking skills. 

Critical thinkers are evidence-based reasoners. That is, they don’t make or accept claims without investigating the evidence to support them.

According to studies, critical thinking goes beyond simple book smarts. 

It involves the ability to tackle complex problems and think deeply about different situations.

It’s a form of smarts where someone employs their knowledge and reasoning skills in practical, real-world scenarios.

It’s a type of thinking that displays a deeper level of intelligence.

Being really smart is a blend of a lot of things

So, what does it really mean to be smart? 

If our list above is proof of anything, it’s that genuine intelligence isn’t all about acing a test.

It’s about having a great sense of humour, feeling deeply, being in tune with your emotions, and always being ready to learn something new. 

Being truly smart doesn’t come with a template, proving that intelligence is as unique as each and everyone of us.

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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