8 Things Highly Intelligent People Do

Issac Newton. Srinivasa Ramanujan. Judit Polgar. Stephen Hawking. Da Vinci.  

What do these names have in common? 


We all possess varying degrees of intelligence, some more than others. These individuals have contributed life-altering and influential works that have changed the course of humanity in some way. They are lauded in society and will forever go down as geniuses in the annals of history. They are the highest ideals of human intelligence, and people some of us strive to become. Unfortunately, not all of us can become geniuses but hopefully, this article can make us feel a little bit closer to these super beings. 

  • Adapt

Intelligence or genius is not defined by the mere ability to amass large amounts of information or rote memorization and regurgitation, but rather on the ability to successfully adapt to changes in the environment based on the information presented. 

The ability to adapt to a situation or environment requires many cognitive processes such as perception, learning, memory, and problem-solving. As time is always changing Successful implementation and execution of these cognitive processes denote intelligence. 

  • Question everything

Curiosity is not only a sign of intelligence but also a key to success. According to a Harvard Review article, CQ or curiosity quotient, along with EQ and IQ determines your ability to manage complexity and informational overload.   

Researchers at the University of Toronto and Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai have found a molecular link between intelligence and curiosity. In mice, they increased the NCS-1 (neuronal calcium sensor) in the dentate gyrus region and increased communication in their brain cells, superior memory while performing complex tasks, and increased curiosity. This study correlates with theories that propose individuals with higher CQ are more intelligent and more capable of dealing with ambiguity. 

This trait translates into success at work. Hiring managers aim to hire candidates who seem curious and conscientious because they believe that those candidates have higher potential and are bound to contribute more. This belief is preceded by the thought that those who are innately curious seek answers, learn more, and thus have accumulated more knowledge throughout their life than someone who has relied only on their intelligence– “growth mindset.” Highly intelligent and curious individuals see every moment as an opportunity to learn and therefore will spend the rest of their lives learning, which is not necessarily a bad thing. 

  • Understand that they do not know everything

Intelligent people are often perceived as being overconfident, but truly intelligent individuals know that they do not know everything. The admittance of ignorance or lack of knowledge in an area denotes high levels of self-awareness as well as metacognition. Highly intelligent people are able to access their strengths and weaknesses and feel encouraged to learn more. 

  • Seek knowledge

Curiosity and self-awareness often lead intelligent people to look for knowledge or bookstores. Usually, it’s the same. The correlation between learning and intelligence is explained by neuroplasticity– the brain’s ability to restructure itself.

When you learn something new, your brain is creating electrochemical pathways to access that information. However, the key is repetition. Repetition cements the information and strengthens the pathways your neurons you have created. The more pathways you create the more fluid your intelligence will become. 

  • Get bored 

This may seem counterintuitive, but general consensus shows that highly intelligent people become bored. Their boredom is not necessarily towards a specific subject, but rather towards the mundane and repetitive. For example, at work, there may be a specific way of doing something but a highly intelligent person has found a more efficient way of accomplishing the same result. Thus, they may feel bored or frustrated at work.  

Boredom arises because you are excited about being in a novel environment and are responding to the stimulant, but you are faced with setbacks that prevent you from engaging. For example, you are waiting in the departures area for your delayed flight to Bali or Paris. You may be excited about your trip, but you are unable to go.  

While being bored is frustrating, it as actually necessary for creativity and intelligence. Boredom serves as a stimulus for change because the process itself is a search for neural stimulation. A 2019 study published in the Academy of Management Discoveriesfound that participants who were asked to perform a mundane sorting task performed higher in the later creative section of the study than those who were asked to create a complex story as to why they were late to an event. 

We are surrounded by stimulants and often eschew boredom because it forces us to face uncomfortable emotions like the futility we may be feeling in our lives. Philosopher Bertrand Russell once said, “A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase.” So, resist the urge to go on social media. Sit with boredom. The outcome may surprise you.

  • Doodle

I am sure this has happened to you before. You are sitting in an obligatory meeting or a long winding lecture. For some reason, the content is something you’ve heard before. Despite the redundancy, you have started to take notes, but halfway through your page is covered in doodles. Embarrassed you quickly shuffle your page of cartoons underneath something and hope no one saw. Don’t worry. Contrary to popular belief, you may be paying more attention than others. A study conducted by Jackie Andrade at the University of Plymouth in the UK found monitored participant’s levels of engagement and memory during a mock telephone call. During the call, those who doodled retained 29% more information than those who did not. 

Doodling is your brain’s way of trying to stay focused and also processing. Scientists looked at the brains of doodlers and found activity in the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is involved with analytical thinking, memory, problem-solving, and logic. 

So, wave those doodled meeting notes proudly!

  • Self-examine and reflect

When we think about intelligence, we circumscribe it to knowledge-based intellect. However, intelligence is multifaceted. One aspect of it is emotional intelligence or EQ. Those with high levels of EQ are generally self-aware and introspective. They have a clear sense of who they are– their emotions, needs, and desires. Therefore, they are likely to establish meaningful relationships and achieve their goals. 

  • Remain Open

Lastly, highly intelligent people are open-minded. Various studies have investigated the correlation between openness and intelligence. One study openness in young adults at the age of 17 and then again at the age of 23 as well as fluid and crystallized intelligence. They found that the degree of openness affects fluid intelligence. However, the development of the trait in openness is easily measured in adults than in children and therefore more impactful in developing later intelligence. 

Being open-minded is a sign of cognitive adaptability/ flexibility, which keeps you curious and ready to learn. 

Just because you have not proved Fermat’s Last Theorem or made an outstanding contribution to the sciences or arts does not mean you don’t possess intelligence. Remember that intelligence cannot be easily measured and it is not fixed. So, keep learning and surprising yourself. 

Let us know in the comments below if you possess any of the habits discussed in this article! 


Additional Sources:

Ani. “People with High IQ Get Bored Easily, Suggest Study.” The Indian Express, 7 Aug. 2016, indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/life-style/your-laziness-might-suggest-high-iq-levels-2959574/. 

Cherry, Kendra. “Does a High IQ Lead to Greater Success?” Verywell Mind, 30 Apr. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/are-people-with-high-iqs-more-successful-2795280. 

Cherry, Kendra. “Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why Incompetent People Think They Are Superior.” Verywell Mind, 14 June 2019, www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-the-dunning-kruger-effect-4160740. 

Donvito, Tina. 12 Quirky Habits of People Who Are Smarter Than Everyone Else. 4 Jan. 2019, www.thehealthy.com/habits/habits-of-smart-people/. 

Furnham, Adrian, and Helen Cheng. “Childhood Intelligence Predicts Adult Trait Openness.” Journal of Individual Differences, vol. 37, no. 2, 10 June 2016, pp. 105–111., https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-the-dunning-kruger-effect-4160740. 

Jauk, Emanuel et al. “The relationship between intelligence and creativity: New support for the threshold hypothesis by means of empirical breakpoint detection.” Intelligence vol. 41,4 (2013): 212-221. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2013.03.003

Laurinavicius, Tomas. “Adaptability: The True Mark Of Genius.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/adaptability-the-true-mar_b_11543680. 

Lebowitz, Shana. “11 Common Traits of Highly Intelligent People.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 19 Apr. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/8-common-traits-of-highly-intelligent-people-2016-7. 

Lebowitz, Shana. “8 Personality Traits of Highly Intelligent People (Backed by Science).” Inc.com, Inc., 21 July 2016, www.inc.com/business-insider/8-personality-traits-highly-intelligent-genius-people-share-according-to-science.html. 

Park, Denise C, and Gérard N Bischof. “The aging mind: neuroplasticity in response to cognitive training.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience vol. 15,1 (2013): 109-19.

von Stumm, Sophie. “Better Open Than Intellectual: The Benefits of Investment Personality Traits for Learning.” Personality & social psychology bulletin vol. 44,4 (2018): 562-573. doi:10.1177/0146167217744526

von Stumm, Sophie, and Phillip L Ackerman. “Investment and intellect: a review and meta-analysis.” Psychological bulletin vol. 139,4 (2013): 841-69. doi:10.1037/a0030746***

Ziegler, M., Danay, E., Heene, M., Asendorpf, J., & Bühner, M. (2012). Openness, fluid intelligence, and crystallized intelligence: Toward an integrative model. Journal of Research in Personality, 46(2), 173–183. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2012.01.002

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