You may have met someone pretending to be smarter than they are. They try to use big words or bring up their important-sounding hobby or job. They may even put on thick glasses and wear shirts with collars. However, they tend to be aggressive and argumentative because they always have to be right. They ignore the feelings of other people and blame them for their own mistakes. You notice that they believe they are smarter and more competent than they actually are. However, while signs of stupidity can be obvious, signs of intelligence are often more subdued.
Intelligence goes beyond academics and IQ tests. After all, there are many different kinds of intelligence and most can’t be faked with glasses and big words. Here are some ways to tell if someone has true intelligence.
8 Signs of Real Intelligence
Strong empathy is a key aspect of emotional intelligence. While emotional intelligence is about understanding and expressing emotions in a healthy way, awareness of other people’s emotions is much harder. People with high empathy can sense what other people are feeling, often through subtle shifts in their behavior and body language. Empathy could also make a person more considerate and accepting of others’ different experiences, even if they had not experienced that themselves.
Plus, empathy is a skill that could be developed the more it is used. This could mean learning more about others and expressing concern for them. Even reading fiction could increase a person’s empathy. 
Many types of intelligent people enjoy spending time in their own heads, reflecting, brainstorming, and solving. They still enjoy spending time with friends and family, but the more they are busy socializing, the less time they have for introspection and pursuing their interests and hobbies. They still cherish their relationships, but they tend to have few close friends as opposed to a large social circle. The self-awareness of what a person prefers in terms of social interaction is actually another sign of intelligence.
Staying Up Late
Night owls, rejoice. Research has found that people who are inclined to stay up late may tend to be more intelligent. One 2009 study analyzed the connection between childhood IQ scores and the sleep habits of thousands of teens. Those who scored higher on the IQ tests tended to stay up later than those who scored less. Another study from 1999 analyzed the sleep habits of 400 U.S. air force recruits and found the same results. 
People with high intelligence don’t stop learning. They tend to enjoy researching, reading, art, and exploring new places and cultures. They don’t ask shallow questions. Rather, they ask deep, meaningful questions that get to the core of a subject. This creates an open-mindedness toward new experiences and allows them to question their own beliefs. They don’t tend to accept “it is how it is”. They want to know why and how.
Knowing They Don’t Know Everything
Shakespeare once said, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Meaning, less competent people tend to overestimate their abilities, while intelligent people are aware of their weaknesses and limitations. In other words, they know that they don’t know everything. They are more likely to ask for help and admit when they don’t know something. It also means that intelligent people know to surround themselves with people to offset their weaknesses. After all, when people know they don’t know then they can learn.
Strong Sense of Self
Self-awareness is an important sign of intelligence. It also relates to a person’s sense of identity, which relates to their life values, abilities, life goals, desires, and other defining factors. A person with a strong sense of self means they feel secure in who they are, know their strengths and weakness, and are confident in making choices based on their beliefs.
It could take time to find a strong self-identity and even if a person has one, they could still struggle to comfortably express themselves, set boundaries, and choose a path based on their values. No matter how self-aware a person is, their self-discovery journey could be a lifelong process. 
According to Dr. Katie Davis, a clinical neuropsychologist, creativity is a definitive sign of intelligence. Creativity needs out-of-the-box thinking and shifting from one pattern of thinking to another. Plus, it lends itself to more than making art. Creative thinkers are often able to think of unique solutions to day-to-day problems. It could be related to empathy because they are able to consider another person’s experiences without experiencing them themselves. Additionally, they could draw parallels between two seemingly separate ideas. 
Intelligent people are able to change their behaviors to better deal with a new environment. Alternatively, they know how to make changes to their environment to better suit them. This ability helps them deal with new experiences like adapting to a new workplace or social situation. They may also tend to keep their wits about them in the face of shock and trauma. This creates an incredible resilience to adversity.
Keep Reading: The Benefits of Having a ‘Venting Buddy’
- “How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation.” Plos One. P. Matthijs Bal, Martijn Veltkamp. January 30, 2013
- “13 signs you’re smarter than you realize.” Business Insider. Shana Lebowitz. July 25, 2018
- “11 Signs of Intelligence Proving There’s More Than One Way to Be a Genius.” Healthline. Crystal Raypole. December 15, 2020
- “9 Signs You’re More Intelligent Than You Think, According to Science.” Inc. Scott Mautz. July 11, 2019