31 People Share Subtle Signs That Someone Is Really Intelligent

Intelligence is a very difficult and touchy topic to cover. A ton of people have their own personal interpretations of what exactly being brainy means. Moreover, many of us also like to believe that we’re definitely above average when it comes to our skills and smarts (hello, our dear Dunning-Kruger effect, how have you been holding up?).

There’s a very sharp divide between someone who might be intelligent (i.e. book smart) and someone who is wise, experienced, relies on common sense, or knows when to follow their gut. What’s more, one’s understanding of intelligence doesn’t necessarily overlap much with emotional intelligence and the ability to empathize with and manage other people well. Don’t even get us started on the fact that just because someone is highly educated doesn’t automatically make them smart. We also have to consider whether or not someone is neuro(a)typical and figure out if we’re equating intelligence with IQ or not.

Internet users shared their opinions about the small and low-key signs that someone might be really intelligent in a very enlightening r/AskReddit thread. Check out their opinions below, Pandas. Though keep in mind, some of them have a far broader understanding of intelligence that borders on wisdom, empathy, social awareness, and perseverance (or, as we like to call it, the difference between 'intelligence' with an 'i' and 'Intelligence' with a capital 'I'). And if you’d like to share what you personally think indicates that someone is intelligent, be sure to drop by the comment section.

Bored Panda reached out to Steven Wooding, who is part of the Omni Calculator team and a member of the Institute of Physics in the UK, to talk about quantifying intelligence. Read on for our full interview with him.


Asking questions. Curiosity is the true foundation of intelligence.

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Steven, from the Omni Calculator project, which has created over 3,000 calculators that are openly available on their website, told Bored Panda that quantifying intelligence objectively isn't easy.

"The gold standard is the IQ test, but maybe a person that does very well on this measure would be ineffective in a real-world situation that does look like an IQ test question," he explained that it's not a perfect method.

"The other issue with the IQ test is that it gives you a score relative to the population, so it's not an absolute measure. Then there is emotional intelligence, which can make a person very effective in the world but is entirely missed by the conventional IQ test," he told us.


They are comfortable admitting when they are wrong or don’t know the answer

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It's pretty hard to be legitimately funny without being smart.

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It's essential to stay humble and grounded throughout your life, no matter how high you might rise. Though it can be easy to forget that when you see success after success and you're constantly lauded for your skills.

Steven said that it's good to remember that "everyone makes mistakes—even the most intelligent people. And next time, it could be you."

"It's good to remember this if you're feeling very confident or you've rushed an answer to a question. Take a moment to double-check yourself," he noted that nobody is above making a mistake, eventually.

It's also important not to get frustrated that others might not have the very same knowledge base as you. "It can be very hard not to get frustrated. The best way is to assume the role of a teacher and help those around you learn what you know. Over time, the gap between you and them will narrow, reducing the cause of potential frustration."


They ask few questions, but the ones they do ask are very insightful.

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They don’t pry and interrogate others on their own knowledge/field of work.

Smart people understand that others can be smart too. It’s not a contest.

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They listen.

Intelligent youth don't necessarily do this; some are little chatterboxes. But they often learn that they make more headway in conversations through listening to others, rather than monopolizing conversation.

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Bored Panda was also interested to find out how much the Omni Calculator project itself has touched upon untangling intelligence. Though they currently don't have anything that calculates your intelligence directly, they do have the IQ Percentile Calculator and the Happiness Calculator.

"Quantifying smartness is difficult. Omni Calculator has the IQ Percentile Calculator, which tells you what proportion of the population has a higher and lower IQ than you (requires your IQ score). Though we might be able to tell you how happy you are with our Happiness Calculator—it asks a few questions to see where you are on the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS)."

Broadly speaking, intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. Quick thinking, perceptiveness, a good memory, adaptability, and the ability to embrace failure are all small parts of what makes someone smart. But reading a lot of books means nothing if you can’t or won’t apply that knowledge to whatever goals you have in mind.


They don't go around telling other people how smart they are.

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They can debate without vitriol. Really intelligent individuals can present a well informed argument while leaving emotions aside and without insulting their opponents

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They can frame & process unfamiliar things quickly as they learn them, & can connect them to familiar things easily both for themselves & in conversing with others. Lots of “ohhh, it’s like …” moments that are on track.

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Though intelligence is often celebrated (and, frankly, it’s something that humankind should aspire to as a whole), its impact is vastly overestimated in some instances. For instance, when it comes to financial stability. Or, as Bloomberg puts it: “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” Viewing intelligence only through the lens of IQ is very limiting. And correlates very little with real-life success.

Economist James Heckman’s research indicates that IQ isn’t all that important when it comes to one’s financial prospects. Instead, one’s personality is key. Traits like conscientiousness, diligence, perseverance, and self-discipline are vastly more important.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg writes that Heckman’s study found that good grades and achievement-test results predicted adult success far better than raw IQ scores. Grades are an expression of intelligence, as well as non-cognitive skills, such as good study habits or a student’s ability to collaborate with others. In short, personality is vital when it comes to success.


I find it is often in their eyes - even if they don't say much their eyes are always scanning, thinking, indicative of a very active mental world. A bit like border collie's eyes lol

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Quiet confidence when in discussion and being able to discuss BOTH sides without turning it into an argument.

Throwing tantrums, yelling and screaming as a functional adult because someone has a different opinion than you do usually leads me to believe you didn't mentally mature effectively.

I have a relatively conservative friend who works in my industry (Restaurants) and is extremely tolerant of those around us. Doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, no dope, church every Sunday, is against abortion, doesn't agree with immigration policy, etc etc etc... We have had VERY long winded discussions in the prep room about things like that, and at the end of the day, we agree to disagree and then rock paper scissors on who's doing the floors and who's cleaning the freezer.

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They are able to adjust their speech without sounding patronizing to the person they are speaking to. They pay attention to how other people learn and explain things in their terms

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Look, Pandas, if we’re being completely honest here, I see myself as a pretty darn intelligent guy. I know I’m smart… and I work hard at it.

However, I’m also aware that this advantage is balanced out by my lack of common sense, the overwhelming propensity to daydream instead of taking action, and my idealistic naivety. I also sometimes forget to press the ‘Sarcasm’ button in my mind before speaking.

(In geek-speak, if this were Dungeons & Dragons, my Wisdom ability score would be negative, and I’d have a wildly fluctuating Charisma stat.) I know my strengths. But I’m also painfully aware of where I still need to grow.

Generally speaking, this is where the Dunning-Kruger effect kicks in. The short version is that most people believe that their intelligence is above average. Obviously, mathematically, this can’t be the case because that would just change the collective average.

The long version is that someone who (objectively) has very low skills or knowledge in a particular area believes that they are far better than they actually are. It’s a mix of arrogance and overestimating one’s competence.


Tactful and careful wording. It implies that they are consciously, actively taking into consideration their environment and the feelings of those around them.

Someone who blurts out something impulsive or insensitive is typically not someone I would consider wise.

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They are open minded

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Quick understanding of concepts that they've never encountered before. When you see it, it's mad impressive.

A friend who watches a sports game for the first time and immediately picks up on the habits and style of each team. Someone who hears a complicated explanation of something and quickly translates it into something that makes sense.

Impresses me every time I see it happen.

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However, interestingly, the Dunning-Kruger effect also applies to those who excel in their chosen area of expertise. These brainiacs may believe that the knowledge that they have is easy for others to understand or that a particular task is not all that difficult. They also tend to underestimate their own skills.

It’s not enough to be brilliantly smart if you’re unable to maintain it all. Having a good diet, getting plenty of exercise, staying curious, and maintaining strong social ties are all factors that help you stay sharp as you age. Taking care of yourself is the intelligent thing to do.


They don't pretend to know things that they don't.

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Excellent memory and retention and then application of such after a passage of time.

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Adaptability. A smart individual can always think of different solutions when circumstances change.

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when you're complaining, they ask if you want advice, or just someone to listen

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Admitting when they’re wrong, or educating someone instead of shaming them


creativity, thinking laterally, and problem solving!


This isn’t a universal “intelligent” trait but a few of the smartest people I know are always a little bit paranoid and very aware of their surroundings. Two people in particular who come to mind are meticulously aware of the small details happening in the moment that most people would just miss. They can get a read on a complete stranger sitting across the room with frightening precision.

It’s not a well read, book smart type of intelligence. But more of a hyper awareness of all things while still laughing, having fun or holding a conversation. Like the hardware on their brain works more efficiently.


Patience, and they don’t make knee jerk reactions.

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They make keen observations about minuscule things. Shows how attentive and aware they are


A combination of critical thinking skills (direct problem solving) and lateral thinking skills (thinking outside the box). Being able to pull together data from both inside and outside a problem to solve it


Being able to understand other points of view….without necessarily agreeing.


Can make complex ideas explained in an easier way


They think with their brain rather than their emotions


When asked a question, they take the time to think about an answer rather than just blurting out any and all info on the subject that they remember.


Usually their jokes don't revolve around sexual jokes or toilet humour.


Not arguing back to further prove there point to be right

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