8 non-obvious signs someone is really intelligent, according to psychology

If you’ve ever wondered how to spot a truly intelligent person, you’re not alone. Intelligence can be a tricky thing to pin down, especially since it’s not always as obvious as a high IQ score or an impressive academic record.

Psychology, however, offers some intriguing insights into the less obvious signs of intelligence.

These signs aren’t your typical indicators. They might be subtle behaviors, habits, or even personality traits that you wouldn’t immediately associate with intelligence. 

But according to the science of the mind, they may just prove that someone is smarter than they initially appear.

Understanding these signs could potentially help you recognize the hidden geniuses in your life or better understand your own intellectual strengths.

Remember, intelligence is not just about knowledge and skills—it’s far more complex and diverse.

This is why I’m here to dive into the fascinating world of psychology and share these 8 non-obvious signs that someone is really intelligent. 

Ready to get started?

1) They’re curious about everything

According to psychology, one of the less obvious signs of intelligence is an insatiable curiosity

In other words, really intelligent people are always asking questions, seeking answers, and exploring new ideas.

But it’s not just about asking a lot of questions. It’s about asking insightful ones, digging deeper, and not just accepting things at face value. 

Their curiosity isn’t limited to their area of expertise, either. They’re interested in a broad range of topics—everything from art to zoology—and they’re always eager to learn more.

This constant quest for knowledge helps them expand their understanding and see connections that others might miss. 

2) They’re comfortable with ambiguity

When faced with uncertainty or incomplete information, many people feel uncomfortable. There’s a natural instinct to seek clarity, to find black-and-white answers. 

However, those who are truly intelligent often embrace ambiguity.

These individuals understand that not everything in life is clear-cut, and they don’t shy away from the gray areas. They’re comfortable dealing with complex issues that don’t have straightforward answers.

This ability to embrace ambiguity isn’t about enjoying confusion. It’s about recognizing that life is full of paradoxes and contradictions and being okay with that. 

It’s about being able to hold multiple perspectives in mind at the same time and understanding that there can be multiple valid viewpoints.

3) They enjoy their own company

Highly intelligent individuals often appreciate solitude more than others. They cherish their alone time, using it to reflect, contemplate, and recharge. This doesn’t mean they’re antisocial or introverted—though they might be—it simply means they see value in spending time with their own thoughts.

In 2016, a study published in the British Journal of Psychology revealed that individuals with higher intelligence levels tend to derive less satisfaction than most people do from socializing with friends. 

It suggests that smarter people might be more focused on long-term objectives, and social interactions can be seen as a distraction.

While this might seem like a contradiction in our highly interconnected world where networking and social interactions are often equated with success, it’s not necessarily the case. 

Valuing solitude doesn’t make someone aloof or indifferent—rather it allows them to connect with their inner self, fostering personal growth and self-awareness, traits often associated with intelligence.

4) They’re good listeners

We often equate intelligence with the ability to speak eloquently or argue convincingly. But one of the less obvious signs of intelligence is the ability to listen well.

Really intelligent people understand that everyone has something valuable to say. They know that every conversation is an opportunity to learn something new, even if it’s from someone they don’t agree with or someone who sees the world differently.

When they’re listening, they’re fully present. They’re not just waiting for their turn to speak or thinking about how they’re going to respond. They genuinely want to understand the other person’s perspective, feelings, and experiences.

This kind of deep, active listening requires patience, openness, and respect for others—qualities that reflect not only intelligence but also emotional maturity and kindness.

5) They often forget trivial details

genuinely intelligent 8 non-obvious signs someone is really intelligent, according to psychology

You might think that a highly intelligent person would remember every detail, from historical facts to yesterday’s weather. However, that’s not always the case. 

In fact, many intelligent individuals often forget trivial details.

This doesn’t mean they have poor memory. On the contrary, their brains are simply selective about the information they retain. 

They tend to focus on understanding the big picture and making connections between ideas rather than memorizing minutiae.

6) They appreciate humor

Intelligence and a good sense of humor often go hand in hand. This doesn’t mean they’re always cracking jokes or laughing loudly. 

But they do have an ability to appreciate humor in its various forms, and they often use it as a tool to navigate complex social dynamics.

I once knew someone who was exceptionally brilliant in their field. This person had a knack for lightening the mood in tense situations with a well-placed joke or humorous observation. 

Their humor wasn’t about making fun of others or being the center of attention. Instead, it was a way of bringing people together, diffusing tension, and fostering open communication.

This ability to use humor intelligently signifies a high level of social intelligence. It requires understanding what others will find funny, which involves empathy, perspective-taking, and a keen understanding of human nature—all signs of intelligence.

7) They’re not afraid of making mistakes

Nobody enjoys making mistakes. They can be embarrassing, disappointing, and sometimes costly. But here’s the thing: truly intelligent people aren’t afraid of messing up.

It’s not that they’re careless or reckless.

They simply understand that making mistakes is an inevitable part of life, especially when you’re pushing your boundaries and striving for growth. They know that failure often provides the best lessons and the most valuable feedback.

So if you find yourself constantly afraid of doing something wrong or making a bad decision, it might be time to reassess your approach. 

Embrace the possibility of failure. Take risks. Make mistakes. Learn from them. It’s all part of the journey towards becoming a more intelligent, capable version of yourself.

8) They’re adaptable and flexible

Above all, a truly intelligent person is adaptable. They understand that change is the only constant in life and they’re prepared to roll with the punches.

They’re not rigidly attached to their ideas or ways of doing things. Instead, they’re open to new perspectives, willing to reconsider their beliefs in light of new information, and ready to adjust their strategies when circumstances change.

This ability to adapt and be flexible is perhaps the most crucial indicator of intelligence. It’s what allows us to navigate the complexities of our ever-changing world, to learn from our experiences, and to grow as individuals.

Wrapping it up

Recognizing intelligence in others and ourselves goes beyond traditional markers like academic achievements or high IQ scores. 

It’s about appreciating the less obvious signs, the subtleties that often go unnoticed but are equally important.

This article aimed to shed light on these signs and help you identify and appreciate the hidden depths of intelligence in those around you, and perhaps even in yourself.

Remember, intelligence is not a race with a finish line. It’s a lifelong journey of curiosity, learning, adapting, and growing. It’s about being open to new ideas, comfortable with uncertainty, and brave enough to make mistakes.

And most importantly, being truly intelligent means knowing your own worth, embracing your unique strengths, and living life on your own terms.

Here’s to celebrating intelligence in all its forms and fostering a deeper understanding of what it truly means to be intelligent.

Picture of Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling has a background in entrepreneurship, having started and managed several small businesses. His journey through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship provides him with practical insights into personal resilience, strategic thinking, and the value of persistence. Ethan’s articles offer real-world advice for those looking to grow personally and professionally.

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