7 signs someone is actually highly intelligent, according to psychology

Do you know anyone who’s super-intelligent?

You might think you do.

Maybe you have a friend who has every baseball stat for the past 50 years memorized. Or perhaps you have a pal who always seems to know what other people are thinking.

But how can you be sure if a person really is highly intelligent?

I’m talking about soaring IQs, immense brain power, and quick comprehension of the most complicated of concepts.

Psychologists have been studying intelligence for decades and have figured out quite a lot about what it is, what its effects are, and where it comes from.

If you’re looking for ways to tell if someone is a Clever Carl or a Genius Jenny, this is right where you should look.

These seven signs someone is actually highly intelligent, according to psychology, are going to give you a great idea if the person you know is really the mastermind you think they are.

1) They stay up late

What, like partying?!

I know for a fact that that’s not the way things work. I have friends who can stay out at clubs until the break of dawn almost every day but struggle to calculate their change when they buy a coffee.

No, anyone can stay up late if they’re juiced up on substances and stimulated by exciting situations.

But psychologists have actually found that in normal situations, smarter people tend to be night owls.

Is it really that simple?

Well, one study found a direct link between IQ scores and staying up later.

Does that mean they also sleep more?

Not really. They seem to get to bed later and wake up later than their less-bright compatriots.

Why would this be?

The researchers of this study suggest that for most of human history, our waking cycles were controlled by natural day and night cycles. When it was light out, we were up and active, and when it was dark, we slept.

People who stayed up later were probably odd ducks. They may have had novel ideas or thoughts that kept them awake longer. 

It’s possible, then, that staying up later gave these people the opportunity to think about different things while during the day, they were more focused on what everyone else was – surviving.

Whatever the reason, it seems that brighter folks prefer the dark of night.

2) They’re curious cats

I think most people would recognize curiosity as a sign of intelligence.

By curiosity here, I don’t mean trying new things or looking for new experiences. That’s sensory curiosity and is more of a characteristic of personality than of intelligence.

I’m talking about epistemic curiosity. According to research, “Epistemic curiosity refers to a desire to acquire new knowledge elicited by new and complex ideas or conceptual ambiguities.”

This is the thirst for new knowledge and information and is something you probably expect to encounter in smart people.

Well, that same research found exactly this link. 

It showed that smarter individuals tended to be highly curious. Not only that, but they also used their curiosity to boost their intelligence, so it goes both ways.

If someone is really curious, always thirsting for knowledge and learning new things, it’s probably because they’re highly intelligent.

3) They’re funny

We all know the type of person who can’t take a joke.

Then there are people who struggle to get jokes, and you find yourself having to explain them (and usually, therefore, draining the humor right out of them).

It turns out that humor – being able to make and appreciate jokes – is a sign of intelligence.

In a study that tested 200 schoolchildren, the researchers found that kids who had higher IQs were better at making funny captions for cartoon pictures. In fact, “intelligence explained 68% of the difference in humor ability” of the kids in the study.

Another study looked specifically at dark humor. The findings were similar – people with higher intelligence appreciated dark humor a lot more.

In this case, surprisingly, people with low IQs also appreciated dark humor, but people with moderate IQs really didn’t. 

The researchers suggest that people of low intelligence may not appreciate the dark implications while people with moderate intelligence picked up on the darkness but missed the satirical elements and were offended.

People with high intelligence seemed to understand and appreciate both of these elements.

There are certainly some brilliant comedians out there who can craft jokes and observe the humor in even the most tragic of situations. But it also takes an intelligent audience to laugh as well!

4) They’re good at reading and writing

youre more intelligent than you think 7 signs someone is actually highly intelligent, according to psychology

Intelligence seems to be made up of a lot of factors.

Highly intelligent people are good at both concrete and abstract reasoning, problem-solving, and also have great memories and verbal intelligence.

After all, we humans communicate in words, whether spoken or written, and it takes intelligence to process these words to understand ideas.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that intelligent people are good at reading and writing.

But it might take some research to convince you. Luckily, psychology has the answers once again.

Research shows that writing ability is related to verbal intelligence and grammatical ability. In other words, people who show higher abilities at understanding spoken language are also better at writing.

Reading research has turned up similar findings. In one twin study of nearly 2000 pairs of twins, researchers found that the twin that read more also tested higher for intelligence.

There is the question, though, of whether intelligent people read more or if reading makes you more intelligent. Either way, there’s a strong association between general intelligence and both reading and writing ability.

Highly literate people seem to be smarter.

5) Their mind wanders

You know that trope of the spaced-out kid in class who’s always staring out the window daydreaming when the teacher calls on them?

Everyone laughs at them because they don’t seem to know what’s going on and they feel mocked and excluded.

This might be an unfortunate situation and one that might actually play out in real life.

But even more common than this is the kid who doesn’t pay attention because they have more interesting things to think about.

Yes, the minds of these people still wander, but they’re not necessarily lost in fantasies. Instead, they may very well be thinking about things that are much more stimulating and intellectually challenging than what’s happening in school or wherever this happens.

In fact, psychological research has found that mind wandering is highly connected to creativity and fluid intelligence. 

This backs up the idea that bright people have a lot to think about, a lot of curiosity, and the ability to go deep into their mind palaces even when there are lots of distractions around them.

Sometimes, mind wandering can be a good thing!

6) They worry

If you’re always thinking about a lot, does that mean you have more things to worry about?

They say that ignorance is bliss, so perhaps high intelligence and deep thought are just the opposite.

Research shows that highly intelligent people who already have anxiety disorders have higher levels of anxiety than people with lower intelligence.

However, this isn’t the case for people without anxiety disorders. They have similar levels of anxiety that don’t seem to depend on their IQs.

It seems, then, that higher intelligence can make anxiety worse and make people worry more, but this is only true for people with disorders.

7) They’ve got a high IQ

IQ tests have been developed and used by psychologists for well over a century.

These tests were initially designed to sort people into different intelligence categories and identify children with developmental issues.

These days, however, IQ or intelligence quotient tests are standard around the world. They’re used by employers, educational institutions, and even militaries to see who’s fit for service.

What does an IQ test actually test for?

These tests look at people’s crystallized intelligence – what they know and can remember – and fluid intelligence – what they can apply to new problems.

These tests ask questions about facts and figures (crystallized) and also give puzzles and problems to see how well and how fast people can solve them (fluid).

If you end up with a high IQ, however, it really only shows that you’re more intelligent than average. These tests are set up on a curve so that 100 is the average score, and anything higher is above or way above average.

So, if someone does extremely well on an IQ test, it’s a good indication that they’re highly intelligent, naturally!

Final thoughts

These seven psychology-backed signs someone is actually highly intelligent can help you pick out the geniuses around you.

If someone only shows one or two of these signs, they may not be super-intelligent. But if they tick all the boxes, you’re very likely dealing with someone who has an incredible mind.

That person might even be you!




Picture of Marcel Deer

Marcel Deer

Marcel is a journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur. When not obsessing over his man cave or the latest tech, he’s failing helplessly at training his obnoxious rescue dog ‘Boogies’.

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