16 Signs Someone Is Smarter Than They Look

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Have you ever been shocked to discover that someone you thought wasn’t too bright actually had a lot of insight or skill that you hadn’t anticipated?

We shouldn’t assume someone’s intellect by the degrees they’ve earned or the way they speak, but rather by the subtle nuances they exhibit in everyday life.

These 16 signs are telltale giveaways that you’re dealing with someone who’s far more intelligent than they’re given credit for:

1. They stop and think before responding.

There’s a massive difference between reacting and responding.

Highly intelligent people pause and consider their words and actions before proceeding in any given circumstance.

You may observe this in conversation, where they take their time to process another’s thoughts before offering their own, or in a difficult circumstance where they think first about the best course of action, rather than leaping into the fray.

By doing so, they avoid the need to backtrack or make amends for acting hastily without considering all the facts or details.

2. They ask a lot of good questions.

Intelligent people rarely, if ever, take anything at face value.

They will consider what they’re being told, but they’ll also be very inquisitive about the subject.

If their inquiries are met with redirection or unintelligible responses, they’ll simply become more inquisitive until their curiosity is sated.

Additionally, they like to immerse deeply in subjects that pique their interest and will ask countless interesting, reasonable, and thought-provoking questions about them.

A perfect example of this is a child who becomes obsessed with dinosaurs. They’ll likely drive their parents to distraction asking whether plesiosaurs liked to play tag, or whether archaeopteryx had colorful feathers.

3. They adapt to new situations and learn quickly.

You’ve likely observed people who can adapt to new situations or circumstances on a dime, while others are far less comfortable with change.

Studies show that the most successful, highly intelligent people are those who can adapt to whatever environment they’re in, and thus attain harmony with their surroundings.

This often involves the need to learn skills quickly and put situational awareness into practice, which is much more difficult for those who get easily distressed when they’re pushed out of their familiar comfort zones.

4. They have a sense of humor (and use it intelligently).

A great sense of humor involves cognitive flexibility, social awareness, comprehension, creativity, wit, sarcasm, and abstract thinking.

Put all of those together and you have a person who can understand pretty much any joke and make terrible-yet-brilliant puns (especially if they have a wide vocabulary that spans several languages).

Those who have a good sense of humor are often also far more resilient in difficult circumstances.

Although they may be considered ‘morbid’ or ‘weird, people who have gallows humor can find levity in even the most appalling situations.

For some, it may seem distasteful, but to a highly intelligent person, it’s a tool to get through things that would shatter or even break others.

5. They are curious and interested in a wide range of topics.

Highly intelligent people tend to be interested in many different subjects from across the board.

They may immerse in them one at a time or have several different projects or books on the go all at once.

Your super-intelligent friend may divide their time between learning a new language, playing different instruments, delving into astronomy, cooking Sumerian breakfast dishes, and many more.

When they come across new topics that pique their interest, they’re sincerely intrigued and want to learn more, rather than simply nodding and paying half attention for the sake of being polite.

6. They can communicate simply so others understand.

Some of the most intelligent folks on the planet can summarize their thoughts into succinct parcels of information that others can understand easily.

Even if the concepts they’re discussing are complex, they can share them in a way that others grasp without feeling condescended to.

You may also notice that intelligent people don’t often use a lot of ‘filler’ words when they speak. They tend to be quite articulate and don’t say “like” or “uhh” too often.

7. They have a strong memory.

Many highly intelligent people got nicknames such as ‘Encyclopedia’ or ‘Robot’ as children because of their amazing or sometimes photographic memories.

Even as adults, they have memories like steel traps and are capable of recalling startlingly accurate—and often extensive—details about things they’ve read or heard.

8. They think outside the box.

Highly intelligent people usually find countless innovative solutions to problems that stump the rest of us.

The more intelligent a person is, the more flexible they are in terms of creative problem-solving.

This allows them to not just find ways around an issue, but also over it, through it, or creating a wormhole to approach it from a completely different dimension.

9. They listen more than they speak.

Super-intelligent people are rarely chatterboxes.

Whereas others may feel inclined to share every single thought that pops into their head, intelligent folks like to observe and contemplate what’s going on around them.

They don’t feel uncomfortable with silence, so they don’t have a pressing need to fill it with hollow drivel.

When they do speak, it’s because they have something of worth to share, or because they’re responding to what someone else is asking them or saying to them directly.

Highly intelligent people are also less likely to interrupt others when they’re speaking, nor do they talk over others to try to silence them if they’re saying something they don’t like.

Instead, they respect everyone’s right to express themselves, even if they don’t agree, and wait their turn to counter an argument with salient points and rational evidence, rather than emotional outbursts.

10. They cherish solitude.

One major trait that most highly intelligent people have in common is how much they value solitude.

Whereas most folks feel comfortable in groups of people and turn to their friends, family, and extended circles for help with problem-solving and personal issues, super-intelligent people are much more comfortable going it alone.

They tend to be smarter than most of their peers, which can be incredibly alienating and frustrating, and they’ve learned over time that they prefer to solve problems by themselves.

Additionally, highly intelligent people are often drawn to hobbies and personal pursuits that they can do alone.

These may include (but are not limited to) reading, writing, gaming, exercising, hiking, gardening, visual arts, and music.

Often, these people are far happier spending time with animal companions than humans and thrive best when they’re alone, either in silence, or immersed in the music, films, or podcasts they love the most.

11. They pick up skills easily.

Highly intelligent people can often pick up a wide variety of skills very swiftly, either through observation or self-directed study.

Most of them have a very diverse skill set that may span across hundreds of subjects.

Your smartest friend may be able to map the human genome as easily as they can rewire their home’s heating system or cook dishes from every country on the planet.

We often witness this in people who are nonverbal. There’s frequently a misconception that because someone is unable to speak because of neurological wiring, they may not be too bright.

In reality, many of these people have extraordinary capabilities and creativity, with the ability to learn skills like playing the piano, sculpting, or coding far more quickly than their peers.

12. They notice things that others don’t.

Highly intelligent people are constantly observing and assessing their environment.

They tend to be hypervigilant, noticing things that are out of keeping with the usual status quo or are subtly different from usual.

They’re often the first to notice things like a coworker’s pregnancy or a ‘feeling’ in the air that comes before an unexpected storm.

If your quiet, bookish friend tells you that squirrel behavior in July is predicting a viciously cold winter, believe them: they’re probably right.

13. They’re not easily swayed by public opinion.

Just because a million people believe something, doesn’t mean they’re right.

The person who’s walking in the opposite direction, on their own path, will undoubtedly be vilified for their ‘wrongthink’, but that million people may very well walk off the cliff they didn’t notice was right ahead of them.

It doesn’t matter how many people naysay this person’s beliefs or perspectives: if they have strong evidence to back up their stance, they’re an immovable mountain in a storm.

14. They keep their thoughts on important topics to themselves.

You may be familiar with this spin on the popular phrase, “What they don’t know can’t hurt me”.

Highly intelligent people have learned either through observation or experience that self-preservation comes from holding their tongue, especially in highly emotional situations.

Many throughout history have found themselves on the business end of a pitchfork for having the audacity to voice conflicting thoughts about a topic that others see differently or are fervently passionate about.

Highly intelligent people aren’t going to fall into that trap.

15. Their literary and musical tastes are eclectic.

You can tell a lot about a person by the music they listen to and the books they read.

If they read, that is.

A highly intelligent person is unlikely to only groove to top 40 pop radio hits or immerse themselves in Oprah’s book club picks but instead will have eclectic and obscure tastes that cross various genres, cultural origins, and so on.

Delving into subject matter from around the world, on various topics, expands their minds and perspectives exponentially.

16. They keep a hold on their emotions.

The more intelligent a person is, the less likely they are to fly off the handle when upset.

They likely have a very strong tether on all their emotions, but especially their temper.

Even if they’re quick to anger, they maintain a calm exterior and can express themselves clearly, without yelling or vulgarity, even if that’s simply by informing everyone that they’re going for a walk.

They’re not the types to throw game controllers across the room, screaming and swearing in frustration, nor will they be violent towards others if they feel that offense has been given.

They rule their thoughts and emotions—they are not ruled by them.


As you can see, many subtle signs of high intelligence may be seen in the most unlikely of people.

It’s a mistake to assume that those around you are none too bright because they behave differently or seem antisocial.

In reality, those quiet ‘weirdos’ are far more likely to have genius-level IQs than your average trend followers and social butterflies.

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About The Author

Finn Robinson has spent the past few decades travelling the globe and honing his skills in bodywork, holistic health, and environmental stewardship. In his role as a personal trainer and fitness coach, he’s acted as an informal counselor to clients and friends alike, drawing upon his own life experience as well as his studies in both Eastern and Western philosophies. For him, every day is an opportunity to be of service to others in the hope of sowing seeds for a better world.