If I ask you to describe intelligence, what comes to your mind?
A professor with glasses? A scientist in a lab? A mathematician chalking up complicated equations?
We tend to primarily focus on academic intelligence, but intelligence can take many forms. Some are more subtle and less appreciated than others—if not outright peculiar.
In fact, researchers have found that certain uncanny habits are actually signs of intelligence! So the next time you see someone who’s acting quite weird, don’t judge too quickly.
Here are 12 strange behaviors that intelligent people tend to do.
1) They sleep late
Research from the London School of Economics and Political Science has found that, on average, people with higher IQs typically sleep later than the rest of the population.
They hypothesize that there may be an evolutionary cause for this.
They said that because nighttime was dangerous for our ancestors, those who had to explore at night had to be more mentally alert to their surroundings. This sharpened their minds compared to those who stayed put.
Or perhaps intelligent people simply have such busy and active brains that it’s hard for them to fall asleep so early.
Regardless, make sure you still get sufficient sleep!
2) They forget things
Now, this sounds quite ironic. If someone’s mind is so sharp, how can they be so forgetful?
In fact, in popular media, we often label forgetful characters as sloppy or airheads.
However, research says otherwise!
Certain kinds of intelligence lean more into more abstract thinking. Their minds would rather…
- Or reminisce;
…than pay attention to the material world in front of them.
Their brains essentially declutter these “smaller” details to make space for their grander and more abstract ideas.
However, it’s wrong to overgeneralize. Other forms of intelligence exist and some of them have amazing memory retention as part of their strength.
3) They talk to themselves
Yes, out loud.
And yes, mumbling to yourself typically makes you seem crazy to most people.
But you know what? Some of the most intelligent people in history have been called crazy by society.
Just take, for example, Nicolaus Copernicus, who proposed that maybe it was the Sun, not the Earth, that was the center of the universe. He was absolutely ridiculed.
A study from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Pennsylvania found that those who verbalized a list of objects remembered them better.
So, talking to yourself can actually be a way to sharpen your memory and critical thinking skills.
Because by discussing ideas with yourself, you are able to think about them with greater clarity.
In an interview with Live Science, Gary Lupyan, PhD, said, “Language is not just a system of communication, but I’m arguing that it can augment perception, augment thinking.”
4) They’re messy and disorganized
In the same vein, wise people often have messy desks. Or messy rooms. Or messy houses.
Some would simply say they’re lazy, but it can also be a sign of intelligence.
(Well, I guess one can still be both intelligent and lazy!)
A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that the messier you are, the more likely you are to be smarter than someone who’s tidier.
Theories say that such messiness reflects the creative and buzzing nature of high-functioning brains.
It can also be that they’re too immersed in their mental daydreams to care about their physical surroundings.
Or, yeah… maybe they’re just lazy!
5) They can swear
Their living spaces aren’t the only things that are messy, though—intelligent people tend to have dirty mouths, too!
This is another thing that seems quite ironic. After all, we often think that people who swear a lot are uneducated or classless or overemotional.
Some studies offer an explanation: frequent curse use may show a more nuanced and creative control of language.
So the next time someone tells you to watch your words, you can just shrug and tell yourself that they’re not on your level intellectually. Ha!
6) They’re avid readers
There’s a reason why images of books and libraries are often associated with intelligence. It’s common knowledge: voracious reading is one of the top signs of high intelligence.
After all, people who know a lot didn’t get that knowledge from thin air. They acquired it from those who came before.
However, it’s not just about how much you read; it’s also about what you read. And, perhaps more importantly, how diverse your reading list is.
There are so many categories of literature. Just to name a few:
- Academic studies;
Only reading a certain genre or field of study often leads you to have a narrow perspective of things. This can make you ignorant of the nuances of a certain phenomenon that other fields can illuminate.
Worse, it can lead you to become close-minded! Remember that even experts in their fields take the time to expose themselves to knowledge in other areas.
7) They’re always curious
And these people read because they have an insatiable curiosity.
After all, people can’t know a lot if they don’t want to know a lot, can they?
This is why smart people are often incredibly inquisitive about the world. Their desire to understand things better leads them to read more books, conduct studies, or even just theorize with like-minded individuals.
What this actually leads to is creativity. Once they learn much about a topic, it becomes evident what the gaps in knowledge in that field are.
Then, they innovate and create to fill in these gaps.
Think of it this way: Would we have advanced as a society if people didn’t create, innovate, or invent new things?
Smart people don’t just absorb knowledge; they seek to create knowledge too.
8) They’re kind of loners
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), highly intelligent people tend to keep to themselves. They’re typically more reserved than the average Joe.
Anecdotally, most of the smarties I know say that they are pretty sensitive when faced with a lot of social stimulation. They get easily overwhelmed when in a crowd, for example.
Since the vast majority of people also don’t think like them, they may have a harder time developing friendships and connections with other people.
Others say that this is because intelligent people are usually fiercely independent and are hell-bent on satisfying their desires and achieving their goals.
9) They prefer cold showers
If you’re in the self-improvement space online, then you’ve surely come across the recommendation to take an ice-cold shower in the morning.
The resulting shock supposedly energizes your mind and body, preparing you for the day.
There’s not too much research on the subject yet, though. So it’s hard to conclude if it’s actually effective.
However, the authors of one study from Finland (where winter swimming is common) note that “adaptation to cold water was associated with a significant decrease in tension and fatigue and an improvement in mood and memory.”
Some people also swear that it truly boosts your brain function and productivity. At the very least, it’ll bring you out of your comfort zone, boosting your confidence, as a New York Times article said.
So, if you want to become smarter, there’s no harm in trying it out!
10) They like to meditate
Just like cold showers, many high-functioning people love to meditate to kickstart their day. Many of them claim that it puts their mind in the right place, setting them up for success during the day.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, even just 12 to 15 minutes in the morning is enough to reap the benefits. Many other studies show that meditation can improve all sorts of mental functioning, from creativity to problem-solving skills to memory.
One researcher even found that brainwave training (a specific form of meditation) can help people gain up to 23 percent in their IQ. This IQ boost lasted around a year, too.
11) They’re overly critical
If you know you’re intelligent, then you must be confident, right?
Well, apparently, it’s not that simple. Because most smart people don’t even know they’re actually pretty smart!
This has become known as the Dunning-Kruger effect after Cornell University released a landmark study in 1999. On the flip side, they also discovered that people who are more incompetent tend to actually think that they’re better than they actually are!
People hypothesize that since people intelligent people know more, they must also know that they don’t know everything. And because they’re so hungry for knowledge, they often view themselves as not being good enough.
12) They’re always looking to grow
This mindset, as toxic as it may be in extremes, is actually what pushes intelligent people to have a growth mindset.
Their quest for knowledge is also a quest to be the best they can be.
Their desire for knowledge and improvement makes them view:
- Every problem as a challenge rather than a tragedy;
- Every risk as an experiment rather than something scary;
- And every failure as a learning opportunity rather than an opportunity to get depressed.
And this is how they grow their huge brains!
The bottom line
As you can see, intelligent people aren’t the all-knowing geniuses we often see in the media.
They’re typically weird and quirky and even a bit insecure. Do you see any of these signs in yourself?
If they resonate with you and have been bullied or looked down upon for these weirder behaviors, I hope this gives you comfort that they’re actually signs of your brilliance.
In my opinion, the biggest takeaway is that there are many forms of intelligence. Some are more academic, some are more creative, and some express their intelligence through physical skills like sports.
And more importantly, I believe anyone can be intelligent. As long as they stay curious and have a strong thirst for growth and knowledge, anyone can be their own unique smartass!