9 signs you’re genuinely smart, according to psychology

There’s a common misconception that intelligence is all about acing tests and having an encyclopedic knowledge of various topics.

But the truth, according to psychology, is a little more nuanced.

Being genuinely smart isn’t just about knowing a lot of stuff. It’s about how you apply what you know, how you interact with the world around you.

Psychology gives us a few markers to identify these genuinely smart people. They’re not always what you’d expect.

In this article, we’ll explore 9 signs you’re genuinely smart. 

Let’s get started. 

1) Curiosity

One of the most common traits of genuinely smart people, according to psychology, is a sense of curiosity.

Intelligence isn’t just about knowing a lot of facts. It’s about wanting to learn more, to dig deeper, to understand better.

And that’s where curiosity comes into play.

Curiosity is the desire to learn and explore new things. It’s what drives us to ask questions, to seek answers, and to continually push our understanding forward.

Think about kids. They’re always asking “why?” They want to understand the world around them. And that’s a sign of intelligence.

If you find yourself constantly asking questions, digging for more information, and seeking to understand the world around you – congratulations!

That’s a sign that you’re genuinely smart.

It’s not about showing off what you know, it’s about your eagerness to know more.

2) Adaptable

Another sign of genuine intelligence, psychology tells us, is adaptability.

Smart people understand that things change, and they’re able to adjust their thinking and their actions accordingly. They don’t just stick to one way of doing things because that’s the way they’ve always done it.

Let me share a personal example.

A few years ago, I was working on a project that was going well. But then, out of the blue, there was a major shift in the project’s requirements. Our whole plan had to be reworked.

While some of my colleagues were resistant to changing our approach, I saw it as an opportunity. I quickly adapted my thinking and came up with a new strategy that not only met the new requirements but also made our work more efficient.

This ability to adapt and change, to be flexible in our thinking and our actions, is a clear sign of intelligence.

It shows you’re not just smart in one specific area or situation, but that you have the kind of broad, flexible intelligence that can tackle a wide range of challenges.

3) Open-mindedness

Smart people aren’t just adaptable, they’re also open-minded. They’re willing to consider different perspectives and ideas, even if they contradict their current beliefs.

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, individuals who are more open to experiences and demonstrate a higher degree of open-mindedness tend to score better on tests of general intelligence.

Open-minded people are more likely to accept new ideas and are less bound by conventional thinking. They understand that their own perspective isn’t the only one and are willing to change their mind when presented with compelling evidence.

Being open-minded isn’t just a sign of tolerance or flexibility, but a manifestation of genuine intelligence.

4) Emotional intelligence

When we think of smart people, we often picture individuals who are intellectually brilliant. But there’s another form of intelligence that’s equally important – emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as the emotions of those around you. It’s about empathy, self-awareness, and interpersonal skills.

Research from Yale University suggests that emotional intelligence is linked to various measures of success, including social relationships and job performance.

If you find yourself adept at reading the room, understanding others’ feelings, and managing your own emotions effectively, consider it a sign of your intelligence.

Being emotionally intelligent is a key component of being genuinely smart, and it’s one that can greatly impact your relationships and success in life.

5) Critical thinking

Another sign of genuine intelligence is the ability to think critically.

Critical thinkers don’t just accept information at face value. They question it, analyze it, and consider the implications.

It’s about not just understanding what’s being said, but also why it’s being said and what the underlying assumptions are.

Harvard education expert Tony Wagner lists critical thinking as one of the seven survival skills for the 21st century. He argues that in an age of information overload, being able to sift through and evaluate all that data is more important than ever.

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t shy away from asking probing questions and challenging prevailing views, then pat yourself on the back. Your critical thinking skills are a telltale sign of your intelligence.

6) Self-Reflection

Genuine intelligence also involves a good deal of self-reflection. It’s about looking inward, understanding your own thoughts and feelings, and recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses.

It’s a kind of honesty with oneself that requires courage and humility. It takes a smart person to acknowledge their flaws, to learn from their mistakes, and to continually strive to become a better version of themselves.

In my life, I’ve seen many smart people, but the ones who truly stand out are those who are not afraid to look inside, to question their own beliefs and actions, and to make the necessary changes in their pursuit of personal growth.

Self-reflection isn’t always easy, but it’s a clear sign of genuine intelligence. It shows an understanding that true wisdom comes not just from what you know, but from being aware of what you don’t know.

7) Lifelong learning

Here’s something I’ve always believed in: True intelligence is not about how much you know, but about your desire to keep learning more. This is what we call lifelong learning.

Lifelong learners aren’t satisfied with the knowledge they have; they’re always seeking to expand it. They’re the ones reading books, taking courses, attending lectures – always looking for ways to grow and improve.

I remember as a kid being fascinated by everything around me. I’d lose myself in books and documentaries, eager to soak up as much information as I could. That hunger for knowledge didn’t fade as I got older; if anything, it only grew stronger.

And according to psychology, this continual desire to learn and grow is a clear sign of genuine intelligence.

So if you, like me, have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, take pride in it. It shows you’re not just smart – you’re genuinely intelligent.

8) Problem-solving skills

Another hallmark of genuine intelligence is the ability to solve problems effectively. Smart people don’t shy away from challenges, they tackle them head-on.

Problem-solving involves a variety of skills including critical thinking, creativity, and perseverance. It requires the ability to view a problem from different angles, to think outside the box, and to persist until a solution is found.

One of the key qualities that distinguished successful people from their less successful counterparts is their superior problem-solving skills.

If you’re quite good at solving problems, not only are you intelligent, but you might be more likely to be successful. 

It’s not just about solving problems, but about enjoying the process of doing so.

9) Humility

Perhaps the most important sign of genuine intelligence is humility. Truly smart people understand that no matter how much they know, there’s always more to learn.

They’re not afraid to say “I don’t know”. They’re not threatened by the intelligence of others. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Humility isn’t about downplaying your achievements or talents. It’s about recognizing that your knowledge, while valuable, is never complete.

So if you’re someone who embraces the joy of learning, who values the wisdom of others, and who understands the limits of your own knowledge, you’re not just smart – you’re genuinely intelligent. And that’s a trait to be proud of.

Wrapping up: It’s more than just IQ

When we talk about intelligence, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of IQ scores and academic achievements. But as we’ve explored in this article, being genuinely smart is so much more than that.

It’s about curiosity, adaptability, open-mindedness. It’s about emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and self-reflection. It’s about being a lifelong learner, having problem-solving skills, and of course, humility.

These traits are the real indicators of intelligence according to psychology. And the beautiful thing is, they’re not fixed. You can cultivate them, grow them, and enhance them over time.

As you reflect on these signs of genuine intelligence, remember: being smart isn’t just about what you know. It’s about how you think, how you feel, how you interact with the world around you.

It’s about continually striving to learn more, to understand better, and to grow as a person. And that is the true mark of someone who is genuinely smart.

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Picture of Lachlan Brown

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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