9 unique habits of exceptionally intelligent people, according psychology

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Beyond the traditional measures, like IQ scores, there are many ways to determine someone’s intelligence.

One simple yet effective way to spot a highly gifted person is by examining their habits and behaviors.

Psychology has discovered that highly intelligent people tend to possess a range of certain unique habits.

Some are positive, some are negative, and others are downright unusual.

So whether you’re trying to determine if your child is gifted or if the guy you’re dating has more than a few brain cells, look for the following nine unique habits!

1) Overthinking

While thinking is something we all subconsciously do and is certainly not a habit, overthinking is a common trait among intelligent individuals. 

For intelligent people, excessive thinking reflects a deep engagement with complex ideas and scenarios. 

Many psychologists, including Eric Klinger from the University of Minnesota, suggest that overthinkers possess heightened cognitive abilities. 

This allows them to dissect problems from multiple angles. It also improves planning, mental performance, and memory consolidation.

However, the dark side of overthinking is that it can (and often does) lead to the following harmful habit…

2) Worrying too much

When you cannot manage your excessive thoughts, it can quickly lead to anxiety. 

Many researchers, including Alexander M. Penney from MacEwan University, believe that super-smart people tend to ruminate on minor things. 

This is known as psychological overexcitability.

This psychological term, coined by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dąbrowski, refers to the enhanced and intensified mental activity (AKA overthinking) that gifted individuals have compared to less intelligent people.

For example, intelligent people are prone to overanalyzing everything, which can lead them to see constructive comments as critical.

Moreover, they habitually think about all the possible outcomes of a situation (known as divergent thinking in psychology). This can cause them to worry and fixate on the worst-case scenario.

As research has found, excessive and uncontrolled worrying can lead to mental illnesses, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder

3) Daydreaming

Another cognitive habit of intelligent people is daydreaming.

This is different from overthinking, as instead of causing anxiety, it enhances creativity and stimulates insight.

While we often see daydreaming as a form of procrastination, research disagrees.

By examining the brains of highly intelligent people, researchers have found that daydreaming activates two parallel brain regions – the “default network” and “executive network”.

The latter is associated with problem-solving and self-reflection. 

This finding suggests that when faced with a complicated problem, the best method might be to switch off from the task and allow your mind to wander.

Doing so will make you more likely to generate innovative ideas and perspectives, further fostering intellectual growth.

Aside from daydreaming, here is another way intelligent people solve problems…

4) Talking to themselves

Many smart people have the habit of “thinking out loud.”

This means they talk to themselves about scenarios and situations like they would to a friend.

Researchers have found that the purpose behind this is to organize their thoughts and ideas and gain clarity. 

This is because self-talk works similarly to journaling.

While journaling helps you gain clarity by putting your thoughts on paper, talking to yourself enables you to organize your thoughts by getting them out of your head and into the air.

Moreover, a study by psychologist Gary Lupyan found that this type of self-talk improves memory recall.

Lupyan’s experiment involved participants trying to locate items in a supermarket.

He found that the participants who used self-talk while shopping were able to locate more items than those who did not.

So, that person you see talking to themselves in public might not be crazy; instead, they might just be trying to find something!

5) Asking questions & seeking answers

Curiosity is a hallmark trait of intelligent individuals.

This desire to seek knowledge and understanding drives them to ask many questions (and conduct many Google searches).

If an intelligent person thinks about something to which they do not know the answer, they will not be able to let it go until they find the answer.

What’s more, because they need to understand the details of complex issues, their questions may often seem weird or strange to others.

Moreover, their thirst for knowledge also means smart people are interested in a wide range of topics, which is one reason for their vast knowledge.

Psychologists emphasize the role of curiosity in fostering intellectual growth and innovation.

By asking questions and seeking answers, intelligent individuals expand their cognitive horizons and push the boundaries of knowledge.

Here’s another habit smart people often develop due to their high curiosity… 

6) Always reading

The curiosity of intelligent people often leads to a voracious appetite for reading

That’s why you’re more likely to find a gifted person with their head in a book than watching a movie or playing video games.

Given the choice, a gifted person will almost always choose education over entertainment.

Whether books, articles, or research papers, they immerse themselves in various topics to satisfy their desire to learn. 

While being a bookworm fits the stereotype of intelligent people or “nerds,” psychologists show that reading has many mental benefits.

Reading expands their knowledge base (making them even smarter) and sharpens their critical thinking and analytical skills. 

7) Staying up late

Here’s one that might surprise you.

Successful people are known for being early risers, attacking the day while the rest of the world is snoring away.

As high intelligence can and often does lead to success, you may assume that rising early is a habit all smart people share.


Research shows this is not the case.

For example, one American study that followed the lives of children found that the more intelligent kids grew up to be more nocturnal as adults than the less intelligent children.

So, what is the reason behind this? Is there a logical explanation?

Researchers link going to bed late with enhanced brain activity in intelligent people (as mentioned earlier).

Because intelligent people are always thinking up new ideas or seeking answers to questions, their brains can become hyperactive in the evening.

This, of course, makes it harder for them to wind down and sleep.

8) Creating a mess

Here’s another surprising habit of intelligent people – messiness!

You would probably think that intelligent people, who you assume have things all worked out, live and work in pristine environments.

But this is not the case at all.

Ample scientific research, including this study by the University of Minnesota, links a cluttered environment to high intelligence.

The reasoning is that people who don’t keep their space clean and organized do so because their minds are occupied with more important things.

Moreover, contrary to popular belief, a messy environment can be conducive to creativity and innovation. 

Psychologists argue that disorderly surroundings:

  • Stimulate unconventional thinking
  • Promote cognitive flexibility
  • Encourage exploration and experimentation, leading to novel ideas and solutions 


Some contrasting studies suggest cluttered environments do the following:

  • Decrease focus
  • Cause mental fog
  • Increase anxiety

So, it’s important to note that some degree of order is necessary, and the level of clutter someone deems acceptable varies from person to person.

9) Frequent swearing

Finally, while most people typically associate foul language with uneducated, low-class people, psychological research has discovered something shocking…

The more intelligent someone is, the more curse words they tend to use.


People with high IQs often have broader vocabularies than people with low IQs.

In other words, non-smart people tend to limit their vocabulary, while smart people are swifter at producing curse words because they have more words at their disposal.

Still, this doesn’t mean every person who swears is intelligent.

In fact, many people like to sound smart by purposely using big words, but sounding smart and being smart are wildly different.

So, this habit alone is not enough to detect a gifted person.

Final thoughts

As you can see, intelligent individuals possess a diverse array of habits (both positive and negative) that set them apart from the rest of us. 

What’s fascinating about these habits is that there is a psychological reason behind them all. 

So, by understanding why intelligent people do what they do, we gain intriguing insights into the cognitive processes and emotional experiences of the most gifted individuals in the world!

Gemma Clarke

I am a certified yoga and mindfulness teacher and an experienced content writer in the spirituality and personal growth space.
I’m passionate about sharing my expertise through the power of
words to inspire and guide others along the path of personal and spiritual development.

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