How to know if you have a high IQ? Can you spot the signs of high intelligence without using an IQ test?
Some people seem aloof, forgetful, and lost in thoughts. Are they neurodivergent (like having ADHD) or intellectual outliers?
“Intelligence is the ability to learn from experience and to adapt to, shape, and select environments.” — Robert Sternberg, 2012
Spotting the high IQ signs can help you understand why intelligent people think and behave the way they do, which is vital if you are planning a relationship with them.
If you feel lonely in your relationship and suspect your partner’s high IQ is to blame, keep reading.
10 Signs of High Intelligence
Intelligence is the human capacity to think, reason, learn, understand, and solve problems. We’re not talking about a machine’s ability to analyze data and give solutions, as in artificial intelligence (AI).
Let us clarify at the outset: a big brain does not imply a high intellect.
Men have larger brains, but women have superior connectivity between the two brain halves.
Larger brain sizes do not make men smarter than women.
In any case, brain size has only a small impact on intelligence. So, there are no apparent advantages in IQ between men and women based on brain size (Halpern, 2011).
Here are 10 high-intelligence signs:
1. High-IQ people have excellent memory and recall capacity, but tend to forget little things.
Some people often forget simple things like birthdays, names, or where they put their car keys.
These “necessary” memory lapses are actually signs of high intelligence.
Research suggests that these people’s brains erase little, irrelevant details to focus on more crucial things and make intelligent decisions.
The researchers say the main goal of our memory is not to transmit information through time, but to optimize decision-making.
“It is the interaction between persistence (remembering) and transience (forgetting) that allows for intelligent decision-making in dynamic, noisy environments.” — Blake Richards & Paul Frankland, 2017
High-IQ people have an almost perfect “mnemonic” system of memory.
High-IQ people have an unusual ability to remember faces, facts, and figures. It is mostly because of a system of memory, called “mnemonic persistence,” that lets them easily retrieve stored memories.
It helps them remember events from both remote past and recent times in exquisite detail.
More crucially, it also lets them forget the unhelpful memories.
In the practical use of our intellect, forgetting is as important as remembering.—William James (The Principles of Psychology)
In comparison, those with brain strokes or dementia mostly retain their remote-past memories, but cannot recall much of anything else. They especially forget things that happened recently (working memory).
Our ability to remember facts, trivia, and experiences from years ago is called declarative memory. A higher ability at declarative function can point out a person’s high intelligence.
They have steep learning curves and are faster and better learners.
This means they can easily retain and recall the exact steps of a process, pick up new skills easily, and apply them efficiently to a variety of situations.
2. Highly intelligent people have good pattern recognition and reasoning abilities.
Finding consistent patterns helps us navigate life’s challenges.
One of the signs of highly intelligent people is their superior ability to recognize patterns.
Pattern recognition gives us an edge in the fight for survival.
Spotting a pattern can help us forecast what may happen next, so we can plan and prepare for events rather than react to them.
Those who can’t spot irregular patterns can miss threats, such as a snake in the bushes.
- A sudden silence in the environment (is a tiger nearby?).
- A child is having high emotionality of late (are they being abused?).
- A friend insisting that we visit a certain place with them (do they want to harm us?).
The ability to recognize patterns (also known as concept formation) is measured by Wechsler Intelligence tests.
Interestingly, this ability begins to drop fast after the age of 25, when language and memory skills become more important signs of intelligence.
In our current world, most pattern recognition work has gone to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) mechanisms.
Did you know our immune systems are heavily dependent on pattern recognition?
When a harmful microbe infects us, our bodies start an immune response. This happens because our immune systems have pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) to help recognize the irregular molecular structures in these bacteria and viruses, and attack them.
3. One sign of intelligence is precise and credible decision-making.
You can never have every relevant bit of information before you make a decision. So you must rely partly on your intuition.
Highly intelligent people have better intuitions and can predict results better, which makes them superior at decision-making.
Now, decision-making needs the ability to deduct as well as to predict.
- Deductive ability means skills we glean from experiences that allow us to read a situation quickly and decide what will work best.
- Predictive ability mean skills we gain from intuition (“gut feeling”) to help us remember events when a similar situation led by other people yielded certain results.
The more intelligent people are better at both deductive and predictive abilities.
They can quickly analyze the given data and reliably forecast realistic results, leading some to label them as gurus of self-fulfilling prophecies.
“If, before every action, we were to begin by weighing up the consequences, thinking about them in earnest, first the immediate consequences, then the probable, then the possible, then the imaginable ones, we should never move beyond the point where our first thought brought us to a halt.”— Jose Saramago
4. One of the signs of genius is high levels of creativity.
Geniuses are creative people. Moreover, their creativity is spread across diverse, often unrelated fields.
- Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize-winning physicist who worked on quantum mechanics and superfluidity, regularly played bongo drums.
- Stephen Hawking wrote children’s books.
- Einstein enjoyed sailing.
Creativity is the ability to create something unique, original, or innovative. It requires basic intelligence.
Creativity cannot occur without an ability to problem-solve, brainstorm, incubate ideas for a long period, filter out unnecessary details, and daydream and mind-wander.
However, keep this in mind. Although creative people are inherently intelligent, not all intelligent people are creative.
So, when we observe creative people, we can deduce they are intelligent. But we can’t really tell whether a person is intelligent or not if we never see them practice any art or other creative activities.
Practicing art is not the same as being creative, but doing any art form can often help us become more creative.
Most creative people also know ways to shut down their conscious minds to let ideas flow more naturally.
5. Intelligent people are highly imaginative and like problem-solving.
One of the signs of extreme intelligence is a highly imaginative mind that seeks problems to solve.
- Robert Emmons, the best-known gratitude researcher today, loves to solve giant jigsaw puzzles.
- Todd Kashdan, the insubordination researcher, loves to find out the intricacies of body-building.
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of the concept of flow, loved to surf oceans.
High-IQ people enjoy learning new things and solving puzzles.
They are naturally drawn toward adapting to new situations and trying to find solutions to novel challenges.
Surprisingly, intelligent people do not begin by knowing the answer—they value the process of finding the answer.
“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.”— Gloria Steinem
They tend to be genuinely interested in science and technology.
However, they frequently stray from their usual field of study to capture new questions and find their answers. This is helped by their ability to effectively process abstract thinking.
People with high intelligence also love to improvise a lot.
When a problem cannot be solved, they can step back and come back later with new ideas.
Researchers found that improvising brains could turn off their error checkers and let the ideas bubble to the surface.
People with higher IQs may have learned how to better utilize their brains. Haier and colleagues, 1993, discovered that people with high IQs have less glucose metabolism in most areas of their brains, but more glucose metabolism in specific areas of their brains (which are probably the areas processing the task at hand).
6. High intelligence correlates to high levels of insight and intuition.
People who are more intelligent are more insightful and more intuitive.
They are more aware of their own mental states and can accurately understand the thoughts and feelings they are having.
“Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle…,” says Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
Intuition is mostly an unconscious faculty.
Intuition is a lightning-fast hidden brain activity that involves “learned responses that are not the outcomes of deliberate processes” (Hogarth, 2010).
To reach sensible and useful conclusions, we need four things:
Now, artificial intelligence (AI) works with the first three but lacks the fourth one — intuition.
This is where humans shine.
Intelligent humans have better-honed intuitions that help them reach smart and productive conclusions (or at least those that are not “dumb”) most of the time.
The only real valuable thing is intuition. I believe in intuitions and inspirations… I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am.— Albert Einstein
Highly intelligent people are great at intuitive powers. They can often find the right and best solutions quickly without being able to explain how they achieved that.
So, we may guess that one of the signs of high intelligence is being good at unconsciously processing environmental signals. This is because they remember learnings from experiences of self and others.
When their insight and intuition fail, intelligent people accept the results with a desire to learn.
A study shows that highly intelligent people learn just as much from their mistakes as they do from their successes. Those with lower intelligence, in comparison, learn mostly from their successes.
7. High-IQ people are curious and open to new experiences.
One of the signs of high intelligence is the presence of high curiosity and willingness to learn new things.
High-IQ people typically ask questions about things they see or hear. When they don’t understand what you’re saying, they ask you to explain it to them in simple words.
These people are curious learners, which makes them more intelligent.
Of the Big 5 personality traits, namely OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism), high-IQ people score high on Openness.
The most difficult part of becoming intelligent is not bragging about your knowledge; it is being modest enough to ask questions. If you stay curious, others will see you as intelligent.
The smarter people are naturally inclined to seek experimental and novel experiences. This has a negative fallout too.
When researchers questioned over 8,000 people, they discovered that those with higher IQs were more likely to experiment with illegal drugs.
However, before you rush to Google more on this, know that this study found that search engines lead us to overestimate our own intelligence. So, Googling may make you feel smarter than you actually are.
8. Intelligence people often have difficulty holding on to romantic partners.
A 2007 study of students and graduates from leading colleges, including MIT, found that the rate of virginity in the higher-intelligence group was noticeably high, at around 45 percent.
People generally want to pair up with honest people, who can make them laugh, and are intelligent.
However, people do not want highly intelligent people as their partners, especially those who are in the top 10%. The two main reasons are that these people have inadequate social skills, and they are usually incompatible.
On their part, highly intelligent people often have to “dumb down” themselves to be able to talk to potential partners. Over time, this gets too exhausting for them to continue.
Research has shown that socializing with friends correlates with increased life satisfaction. But in high-intelligence people, socializing had the reverse effect. More frequent social interactions resulted in poorer life satisfaction in them.
The most brilliant among us are often the happiest when alone—and perhaps should be left alone.
9. High intelligence often comes with certain psychological issues.
Smart people are often outliers and often eccentric.
Some of the most unkempt and “strange” humans among us are actually geniuses.
- Einstein’s desk was a mess all the time.
- Steve Jobs wore the same color and same design turtlenecks almost his entire life.
Researchers discovered that persons with higher IQs were more prone to try illegal drugs.
Research shows that Mensa members have a higher risk of developing mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar.
They also have a higher tendency to have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and ASD (autism spectrum disorder).
The reason could be that high-intelligence people think more and for longer periods of time. They also tend to overthink and worry.
They are hypervigilant to stressful cues in their environment, overanalyze things, and have high physiological excitability.
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” — Ernest Hemingway
A study by the London School of Economics found that highly intelligent people are prone to insomnia.
The researchers also discovered that as the average IQ level rises, so does the rate of sleep achieved in hours per night (Why night owls are more intelligent, Kanazawa & Perina, 2009).
Research has observed that some high-intelligence people have high impulsivity (Phillips and Rabbitt, 1995).
Other researchers found that people with high impulsivity and high academic ability tend to have lower grades than those with high academic ability and low impulsivity (Helmers, Young, & Pihl, 1995; Zeidner, 1995).
Impulsive people, by definition, have a lack of planning and make hasty decisions.
They find it hard to avoid instant gratification, and often prefer immediate rewards while devaluing future rewards.
One of the high intelligence signs is a tendency to not spend too much time planning meticulously before an activity.
This could be because they rely on their intelligence to find creative, parallel solutions without extensive preparation.
IQ tests should never be used to forecast someone’s life potential. 50% of people overperform on academic achievement tests based on their predicted performance on IQ tests.— Scott Barry Kaufman
10. High-intelligence people are quite often high achievers.
Is success one of the signs you have a high IQ?
First, it would be too wrong to say that all intelligent people are high achievers.
However, almost all exceptional achievers have an intelligence higher than the average population. Success often comes from luck (randomness), timing, smart decisions, opportunities, and intelligence.
As they say, successful people aren’t just lucky, they are successful because they were lucky, and, we may add, intelligent.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers picks up how The Beatles and Bill Gates both were exceptionally lucky to have landed opportunities to get where they got.
Some notable Mensa members from Hollywood are Britt Rentschler, Nicole Kidman, Jodie Foster, Geena Davis, Dolph Lundgren, Edward Norton, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Willis, and James Woods (who is claimed to have an IQ of 180).
The negative aspect of this sign is that they frequently experience “imposter syndrome,” or thoughts of doubt about their ability and deservingness of recognition.
It happens because, possibly, brilliant people always challenge themselves, so they frequently face new and hard situations that they solve and grow out of, which may make them feel like an imposter.
Who Are The High-IQ People: 5 Body Signs of Genius
How to know if you have a high IQ? Some studies suggest that certain body parts may be signs of above-average intelligence.
- Blue Eyes: According to a study, blue-eyed people are more studious, more strategic, and more focused, and thus outperform brown-eyed people in exams.
- Left-handedness: Left-handed people are 3 times more likely to be smart, intelligent, or born geniuses. Studies suggest that left-handed people use both sides of their brain, and are more emotionally intelligent, flexible, and sharp. They also retain memories better, making them quick learners.
- Bigger Foreheads: People who larger foreheads tend to do better in mental games and maths tests. It may be due to their bigger forebrain—the seat of higher thinking and complex reasoning. History shows that many highly intelligent people have larger foreheads.
- Smaller Belly: Studies suggest a link between staying fit and being intelligent. Researchers have found that those with higher body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratios (WHR) had lower brain volumes. Belly fat is usually made up of visceral fat which can release hormones that increase inflammation and damage brain cells.
- Long Legs: Tallness may have links to better cognitive abilities, suggest some studies. It could be due to better nutrition and playtime exercises in toddlers and preschoolers, which appear to boost their brain health and make them smarter in brain-related tasks.
5 Behaviors: Unusual Signs of High Intelligence
Five typical behaviors that can help you identify the signs of a high IQ (or at least, an above-average IQ):
- They love to challenge themselves with intricate, unsolved problems.
- They are typically curious people who love to explore novel experiences.
- Their intuitive abilities and capacity to spot patterns are far superior to others.
- They are highly innovative and creative thinkers who have a bent for lateral thinking.
- They make better decisions, get superior results, and are frequently high achievers.
Do IQ and intelligence decrease over a lifetime?
Yes, the average raw IQ score decreases with age over a lifetime, even though the average IQ at older ages stays at 100. Fluid intelligence starts to drop around the age of 30 to 40. Crystallized intelligence keeps growing over a lifetime. In fact, crystallized intelligence tends to peak around the age of 60 or 70 (Desjardins & Warnke, 2012).
Are high IQ test scores reliable signs of high intelligence?
Yes, high scores in intelligence reliably point to higher intelligence. One of the signs of high IQ in adults is that they typically perform well on IQ tests. While 95% of people have IQs ranging from 70 to 130, exceptionally intelligent people score over 130. Those who score more than 145 are in the top 1% of intelligent people.
Also note, while high IQ scores are universal measures of intelligence, they also suggest a highly motivated mental state to take the test. So, a smart person who is unmotivated (maybe due to their age) can have a low IQ and still be a genius.
We may also tell if a person is intelligent without knowing their IQ test scores. For example, lower-intelligence persons mostly learn from their successes. While high-intelligence people learn from both their failures and successes in life.
One fascinating fact is that your parents are not much responsible for your intelligence. The link between a parent’s IQ and a child’s IQ is just about 10%.
Genes determine roughly around 45-75% of our general intelligence, 60% of our verbal intelligence, and 20% of our performance intelligence (Davies, Tenesa, et al., 2011). There are at least a thousand of these “intelligence genes.”
Finally, we can increase our intelligence by traveling to unexplored places, learning a new language, and expanding our knowledge. Let’s repeat what we quoted at the start:
Intelligence involves abilities to learn and adapt to changing environment.— Robert J. Sternberg, Intelligence
• • •
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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