People Share 30 Signs Of Intelligence In People Who Don’t Realize How Smart They Are
While brilliant people surround us every day, many avoid boasting about their mental abilities out loud. Well, there are plenty of subtle signs that prove someone is really sharp. Those discreet details like asking thoughtful questions, being eager to learn new things, and believing the world is far too complex to have all the answers.
Intelligence is a coveted thing, but it turns out sometimes it remains hidden even to those who showcase it. Reddit user thejamessmarianooo decided to learn more about such brainiacs, so they asked: “Have you ever met a really intelligent person who didn’t really know how smart they were? What was your experience with them?” And the responses started rolling in.
Nearly 7K people shared the incredible things they noticed in others who seemed to have no idea how rare these qualities were. And we handpicked some of the most inspiring examples to share with you. So read them right below, upvote the ones you enjoyed most, and tell us your own experiences in the comments.
Someone mentioned already, but people who can easily teach others complex systems or ideas.
My husband is this person. Microbiologist, workflow management, and plays D&D on his down time. He can analyze a difficult concept, distill the relevant information, make it easily accessible to someone and teach it in a patient, unassuming manner quickly without making the other party feel stupid or uninformed.
He’s modest as hell. He has no idea how hard it is to educate people. Never trying to one-up or show off his knowledge. He’s charismatic and emotionally intelligent.
Honestly has no idea how rare his level of kindness and intelligence are in others. He’s the best person I’ve ever met.
Yep, went out with a girl who at first glance looked and behaved like the worst trailer park trash you could imagine. Very few social skills, clumsy, rude and threatening, promiscuous, semi -literate I bought her a beer and just got chatting, she was bi-polar and had had a chaotic childhood. We began to see each other around and started a relationship. I was moving away to go to university and I asked her to come with me and she stated to calm down and got a small job and grew into it as her confidence grew She started taking an interest in my course work a MsC in structural engineering and started to go to lectures in her free time. The end result 10 years later, she had a PhD in fluid dynamics, had learnt 3 new languages fluently and had taken up an analysts job ( quant) at a Swiss hedge fund. She is now a multi millionaire, married to a guy as smart as her, 3 kids and one of my best and closest friends living in one of the finest parts of Europe. I couldn't lover her more.
Cleverness comes in many forms, and savvy people often possess several different types of intelligence, such as intellectual, social, logical, or emotional. However, this thread vividly illustrates how some individuals don’t even realize their own abilities. It also shows that bright people have many different qualities and characteristics, and a high IQ test score is not the only way to measure a person’s mental abilities.
“You don’t need to have a high IQ to be considered intelligent,” Hanan Parvez, founder of PsychMechanics, a site dedicated to learning about the nuts and bolts of human psychology, told Bored Panda. “Intelligence is too broad, practical, and complex to be captured in IQ tests. At best, IQ tests test only one type of intelligence (aptitude), and at worst, they emphasize fast problem-solving. The most important problems we face in life require slow, deliberate thinking.”
My mother. She was raised in a poor abusive family and left school very early to escape. Even now she’ll say how she is uneducated - which is true, but she ain’t stupid. She raised a bunch of us without much money and was always resourceful and canny at making ends meet. She can do fairly complicated math in her head, does extensive research before making large purchases, forwards me screenshots of quite sophisticated scam emails and tells me why they’re fake.
She’s 78 now and has always embraced new tech. Has no trouble using her smart phone or her PC - she even troubleshoots for her neighbours. She still lives in the same poverty stricken area we grew up in and is often helping her neighbours advocate for themselves, writing letters, telling them who to contact and what to say.
She’s also a keen observer of humans - she sees them as they are and takes them as they are with no judgement. She was always progressive for her time and passed down zero racism or other prejudices to us kids.
I wonder what she could have done if she had the opportunities she made damn sure we had.
My grandad left school at 12 he’s dyslexic but back in his day... that wasn’t a recognised thing. He has a particular way with animals, like he always knows what’s wrong. can fix anything, he’s a prolific reader and people just gravitate to him. He’s the most helpful person you’ve ever met and will literally go out of his way to help anyone.
Criminal defense lawyer here. Had a client who was a low level drug dealer and gun runner. Most street level guys have a very different type of intelligence that doesn’t translate well to the white collar world.
Many of my clients ask to read case law... I’ve only met one who could read it, digest it, and discuss it intelligently with me. This guy. He’d do his own research from the jail, which isn’t uncommon, but this guy did it well and would actually send me relevant cases that were helpful to the issues in his case... and when I explained to him why some were not helpful, he got it, asked good questions, and used that discussion to inform future research.
There are a lot of inmates who consider themselves “jailhouse lawyers.” This guy was smart enough to actually be one.
I think about him a lot and wonder what his life would have been like if he was fortunate enough to be afforded with the same opportunities during childhood that I enjoyed.
Insightful people are often flexible in their thinking, and they can easily adapt to any changes coming their way. Other noteworthy behaviors could be thinking before speaking, managing their emotions, and preferring to be left alone.
However, Parvez argued that the ability to take in information as it is is the most important sign of intelligence that hardly gets talked about. “That means, looking at information for what it is, without imposing any of our preconceived notions onto it."
He continued: “Another key subtle sign of intelligence is the ability to project the present into the past, and into the future, as required. Intelligence is all about taking the information the present moment gives you and projecting it into the past (figuring out causation) or into the future (making predictions).”
Former coworker of mine. He came to Germany as a refugee in his young teenage years, had trouble in school due to language barrier, poor support, tough family situation, typical refugee problems. Then he was unemployed and Jobcenter (part of German welfare dealing with unemployment) sent him to the security company I worked at that time because conitions of employment are almost nonexistent in this field.
When he was on my team for an event I (as team leader) had to show him the ropes. The event lasted ten consecutive nights and we faced several different challenges that were part of the job. Every now and then he had a genius idea how to solve the particular problem.
The following year I got him on my team whenever I could, trained him and when I left the company he inherited my position as team leader.
I don't actually know whether he knew about how smart he is, but he was so insecure in the beginning I boldly assume he didn't.
My Partner is Polish. She lives - and works - using her second language. At school she was taught Russian and can get by in it.
She is so smart - and people abuse her, because she speaks English - with an accent.
those people you see everyday - especially older people - living their lives in a second language.... yep, they are smart
We have a paid summer internship program for juniors and seniors pursuing construction management degrees.
5 years ago we had a young woman who came in to the program in her junior year. She was very tiny in stature, and very quiet, but we soon learned - giant in intellect and loud where it counted.
The way we operate is each intern will spend 3 weeks on a different project, learning a different role within the organization. 3 weeks on-site as a Superintendent intern, 3 weeks on-site with safety, 3 with Project management, and 3 on-site with quality control.
After each period, I received a call, praising her ingenuity and ability to adapt and improvise in any situation.
At the end of the internship, we have a Plus/Delta review of their performance, and based on that review, we make a determination on whether to offer them a place the following summer. In the case of a senior, we determine if we want to extend them a full-time employment offer.
Every review she received from each department all said the same thing: "HIRE HER NOW".
We extended an offer for a salaried position, part-time, from that point through her senior year, along with tuition reimbursement.
This young lady still amazes everyone every single day. She's 25 years old, making an amazing salary and absolutely dominating any project she's given. If she doesn't know it today - she'll practically be an expert tomorrow.
She's incredibly impressive.
I can see her having my job one day (Operations Director). Hopefully, it's AFTER I retire.
Yet, smart people tend to sell themselves short because they have more doubts. And they have “more doubts because they see a situation from many different angles. When you see something from different perspectives, you’re bound to find flaws,” Parvez explained.
“This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Seeing things from multiple perspectives allows smart people to avoid the common pitfalls those with optimism bias fall into.”
As a general rule of thumb, many people with lower intelligence tend to vastly overestimate their abilities. According to Parvez, optimism bias certainly plays a role here. “They have a narrow view of things,” he added. “They give in to their desire of succeeding and often end up paying a price for their lack of due diligence.”
I'm volunteer staff at a math summercamp targeted at children who like doing math.
Most of the kids that we get are the standard "doing well in school with good grades to prove it" type. But it frequently happens that some kid is signed up and the parents tell us that their child doesn't really do well in school in general, or math in particular, but they just like doing math-related puzzles. That's cool, because that's all we ask for.
And often enough these kids come with very interesting insights and solutions because they happen to approach the problems from a different angle than the majority. They may be quite intelligent, but not in a way that expresses itself well within the standard framework of education.
The same thing happens on the EQ/social level. A few years back we got a sign up where the parents warned us that their son had great difficulties making friends or socializing in general. On the first day of camp, the kid took a chess board and went to sit down to play against himself. Perfectly fine. But not much later another boy walks up to him and asks if he can join the game. They start playing and talking and they end up being practically inseparable the rest of the week. The kid that had "difficulties making friends" just made a new best friend faster than anyone else there. Just need to give people the right environment.
My brother. Everyone used to tell him that he was just average just because he got average grades. But this kid is so fucking smart. He’s a huge history buff and one time spent about half an hour explaining to me the importance of some Civil War battle and how it was pivotal in helping the Union win the war. I don’t remember the exact details because all I could think about was the level of depth he got into just explaining and analyzing, and also explaining in a way that helped me to understand (at the time).
My brother’s intelligence is the definition of quality and I’d shout that from the rooftops because as his older sister, I’m so fucking proud of him.
My grandma. I just need to brag about her.
My grandmother was freakishly intelligent, but was limited by the gender roles of the 50s.
She graduated top in her class in biophysics. From there she got her PHD in nuclear medicine and got another degree in computer sciences during her fellowship at Northwestern. It wasn't cut short, but she became the SAHM with the influence of my grandfather. My grandfather was an electrician and althouth she loved him I almost wondered if he was intimidated by her. Idk. I always wondered why she did all that work to stay at home. She was sharp af till the day she died .
The founder of PsychMechanics continued by saying that being smart has upsides and downsides. “A major downside is analysis paralysis. You can easily end up over-analyzing things and getting mired in perfectionism.”
“Not all problems are created equal. Some deserve more of your attention and some less. Knowing how to deploy your intelligence effectively is also intelligence,” he concluded.
When I was in uni, I took part in a project called Inside Out where we would go in a prison and have criminology lessons with the inmates whom we called inside students. We didn’t teach them or observe them - we were all learning together.
And this one guy was just a genius. He had this way of describing a phenomenon he’d noticed and thought about without realising that it was an actual theory that existed. Like we’d studied them in class so we knew about them. But he would just come up with it from personal experience. From labelling theory to functionalism he would just outline them like he’d thought of them in the shower. It was extraordinary.
He was also a bit unstable and prone to bursts of anger, often towards himself. He seemed to become frustrated very easily if he couldn’t explain or understand something perfectly.
And one day he stopped showing up.
I ended up talking to the guards who told me that he felt like he was too stupid for the class. Seriously he was convinced that we were all smarter than he was and that he wouldn’t be able to keep up. I don’t know if they ever did, but we asked the guards and a few inside students if they could tell him that we’d loved studying with him. That he was starting really interesting discussions and that his observations always made us think more deeply. That his presence made the class better.
And just to be clear, I don’t mean to say that he was smart “for someone in prison”. He was a genius. Everyone but him knew that he was by far the most intelligent person in the room. But he didn’t see it.
My husband. He was always told in school he could do better. His parents have said to him in front of me he's not very bright. They assume because he "works with computers all day" he just plays video games all the time. He got terrible grades in school and dropped out of University.
He could always do better in school because he was bored. He got terrible grades because he was told he'd do badly by his parents, his teachers, basically everyone in his life. His parents don't understand what he does at all. He doesn't work with computers all day and he doesn't have time to be playing video games all day.
When I met him we working in the same company. I witnessed that company hold him back for 5 years because he was useful where he was. It was just very good timing when he applied for a different job in the same company but a different department and location. He got the job and was allowed to transfer within a week because a higher up was on annual leave and couldn't object. The original department had to hire 8 people to replace him when he left. He's since been hired by a different company and is flourishing. He's had several promotions and pay rises, is on good terms with everyone in the company from the group CEO to the cleaners in his office, and is treated with respect by everyone he works with.
While he can't do simpler maths without a calculator, he can do complex quantum equations in his head. His father had the audacity to say "you've always been bad at maths." To which my husband, who has had enough of his parents bullshit, replied "my maths might be bad but it's good enough to know I earn more than you combined" (in reference to both of his parents)
I'm a super proud wife.
My dad grew up believing he was dumb and would never amount to anything. His teachers all hated him and the first time he went to university he was kicked out. Around the same time as I started university, my mum finally convinced him to try again to get a higher education himself. He's often said that he's too stupid to go back to school, but he speaks about six languages fluently, has so many new interesting history facts that whenever we watch any movie we always have to pause at least four times for a lengthy discussion about it, and he remembers more book quotes than anyone I've ever met. He grew up in communist Hungary and East Germany, and he has since then climbed mountains and been scuba diving in the Atlantic among a bunch of other adventures. Whatever the discussion, he's got a story to tell. He's the coolest dad ever, but for as long as I can remember my family has struggled financially since he couldn't get a job that paid enough. It makes me so happy that he's finally reaching his full potential now at 51 years old, and we're all super proud of him. He dreams of being a teacher one day. He will the best teacher his future students could ever wish for.
My current girlfriend is actually extremely smart. Her intuition is very good with people, her problem solving skills are impressive in situations where she is comfortable, and she has a very deep understanding of the human psych. But, her mother has been gas lighting her since childhood trying to keep her fully reliant on her. I have held my tongue at points just to try and not be that boyfriend that ruins a relationship, but instead just show her how smart she really is, and where she might have a weak point that I may be able to help, I walk her through my thought process, and she picks it up very quickly.
I always wonder how far she could be at this point in her life had her mother just supported her instead of tear her down, but just in the short time I have been dating her, I have seen her grow a lot, and am very excited to see where she can soar off to, I just hope that she takes me with her.
I work in manufacturing so we get a lot of uneducated people. There are a lot of people out there who are smart but for various reasons weren't properly served by the public schools. They might be barely literate, or can hardly string two words together coherently, but they solve problems beautifully, or always have workable ideas, or they talk about ideas rather than people or events. It's hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it.
My husband. He has no idea how incredibly intelligent he actually is. (I do tell him how much I respect his intelligence all the time but he thinks I am being nice.) He is always reading or looking up the most random things just becuse he doesn’t know about them. He graduated with an engineering degree but when the bottom fell out of the manufactoring market he was having trouble finding a job. He got an opportunity to be an IT manager for an engineering company having never taken a computer class. All of his onowledge he aquired on his own. At one point they had 300 employees and he was the only IT person. He could burn the place down and they still wouldn’t fire him. Why? Not only did he revitalize thier systems and saves them tons of money each year by being so meticulous, he has this wonderful ability to EXPLAIN stuff so you can understand and also not feel stupid. (Except when he finds your machine doesn’t work because it’s not plugged in or not turned on!) He is just amazing and continues to show me something new or delight me every day after 27 years.
All these comments are perfect supporting evidence to the notion that there's no such thing as intelligence as one single quality, and I love it.
I taught algebra to inmates briefly and the number of guys who told me they were too stupid to learn math while being able to convert odd measurements between metric and imperial in their heads on the fly was too damn high. I'd like to go back in time and kick all those elementary school teachers who told them they were stupid.
Actually, I've run into plenty of racist, classist elementary school teachers currently teaching but still haven't kicked them, even though they deserve it.
EDIT: it was also amazing to see how their "illiteracy" improved once they finally got a pair of glasses. Even the guys who already had glasses when they got in were often still using prescriptions from 20 years earlier.
I Had a kid in my class that never took anything seriously, skipped class, brought alcohol to class and did numerous other things. You name it he probably did it. But man, that mf knew his shit whenever he paid attention. He understood things when other people were struggling to learn whatever was being taught that day (math, science, English, reading etc). It makes me a little sad because he was always a trouble maker, but deep down I knew that he is/was very smart and was capable of doing good in school. He just never chose to do it, or generally just didn’t care idk at this point. I think he got involved with the wrong crowd early on unfortunately.
I have one.
As a psychiatric doctor, one of my jobs is community management of patients right after they finish an inpatient admission, so they are only slightly better, not fully recovered.
One guy came in to clinic and my boss for some reason described him to me as 'a bit simple'. I don't know if she was trolling me, or if she just completely misread him, because he remains one of the smartest patients I ever had.
He rocks up in high-vis gear with concrete on his work boots, and speaks in a broad accent. He often says stuff like 'oh I dunno about any of that' or 'mate I haven't got time for this'.
But this guy was sharp as a tack. Any time I would bring up a point of psychoeduction to help him understand his bipolar disorder he would grasp the concept before I had finished explaining it.
I still use his words today with other patients about the similarities between anxiety and depression:
"Doc, it's like, anxiety and depression are brother and sister."
Holds two fingers up and crosses them.
"They aren't the same, but they are clearly related."
I was floored. It was way better than whatever garbage I was going to say.
He got well really fast. He just understood things so quickly, and was so open to new information. He could apply anything new to his own experience instantly. Uncanny.
He had no idea how smart he was, because he just assumed smartness was for people with a university degree. I had to tell my boss they were completely wrong about him but I don't know she ever took the time to update her initial assessment.
My son. He’s dyslexic and bi polar. This boy some how fooled me into believing he could read. He later told me that he was going by the picture and the first letters of the words in the sentences. It blew my mind. Then there’s his drawings he does. He creates whole worlds in these pictures and just with one picture has told me an hour story. He loves to draw so much that when my ex and I remodeled the house we told the contractor we would like him put a whiteboard around the bottom half of my sons bedroom walls. He loved it. We don’t live there anymore but he still draws. He’s started to try to talk his way out of doing chores... it has been effective a few times.
Art teacher here, I see this all day, it's hard to get kids to realise they are doing amazing at things not valued by parents or relatives, like arts... When I talked to a kid with serious skills about being a designer she was "no, I ll study business, I don't know anything about art... You just score 90 at the last art history exam and 95 for the last practice - you're 16 when is the last time you did business? ... " But dad said business is your futur so no questions asked... It's sad.
My dad. He's dyslexic and growing up in the education system in the 70s didn't provide any support so he's all but illiterate. He left school at 15 with no qualifications. He always says he's stupid and it upsets me so much - he won't believe it when we tell him he's not. Me, my mum and my sister all have education beyond degree level and he's smarter than any of us. He's eloquent, but sometimes mispronounces new words that he's heard in a different accent - our accent is heavy on the R sound so I've noticed him adding it to words that don't have R's, but of course he's never seen it written down to know. He watches historical documentaries and tells us about how that links with the one he watched a couple of years prior. He once drove me to university 3 hours away using the route he'd driven in reverse once without checking a map. I wish he could see himself as intelligent
ETA since it seems like a lot of people have a connection with this comment and will enjoy this story - he did actually do a speech for my wedding. I was worried about asking him because I wasn't sure how he'd manage and didn't want to put pressure on him, but he was keen to do it. My mum made cue cards with picture hints and they did NOT help him. He just had it written out and learnt it off by heart and used cue cards with the full speech to help him (he can read it when he knows what it says) and his speech was by far the most confident and well-performed speech out of all of us. Give him a birthday card with more words than "happy birthday" and his not happy, but he can smash out a full on speech with no hesitation
In Quatar I watched as a very poor looking construction worker from the Philippines solved a Rubix cube while on his break. He didnt seem to understand the magnitude of the accomplishment.
Have a friend who can rebuild a transmission in a 5 gallon bucket without ever having worked on that type of transmission before. Is a genius in fluid dynamics and theory but never went past 8th grade.
I've got a PhD and work in a field where so many people have PhDs that they don't even mention them.
To this day, I suspect that the smartest person I've ever met was a kid I taught at a GED learning center in the middle of a pretty rough area of a big city. I've met plenty of people who were exceptionally smart in one or maybe two dimensions, but this guy was across the board. He'd turn it on now and then - like when we were playing chess, and one time when he made a reference to something in French of all things - and then he'd just kind of smile. Like it was enough to just briefly show the rest of us how smart he was. It was almost like he was a self-aware Will Hunting - not that cartoonishly smart, of course, but very very smart, aware of it, and aware of his station in life.
I have absolutely no doubt that if he'd had my advantages since birth, he'd be a rock star in whatever field he was in.
But instead I'd see him hanging around a corner store and he may have been a low-level dealer. I have no idea what's become of him, but I hope it's for the best.
In my first year of uni (college) I sat next to a quiet girl who never thought of herself as smart. While everyone else was loud about what they know and act like they’re top of the class, when they’re really not. She never showed off her knowledge. We just graduated this year, 4th year, and she was honoured the university medal for her thesis, #1 student in almost 400 students. But I bet you, she still doesn’t think of herself as especially intelligent.
People who are great teachers without actually being a teacher. I've always thought people who can teach others are incredibly smart because they're aware enough of what they know to present it to others in such a way they can understand it.
The guy I used to work with was a phenomenal teacher of all things paints, powder coating and colour matching/blending. He had a real passion for it and it showed in the manner in which he taught and demonstrated what he was talking about. In saying that, he was also very highly strung and had some mental health issues that held him back from doing great things and so believed he was an idiot. He wasn't, but no amount of telling him would help.
I knew a guy who very smart with the ability to be extremely manipulative and had no idea. He always got good grades in school, often without studying much at all. What was more impressive was his ability to read people’s body language, vocal tone fluctuation, and micro expressions. Often he would know what emotions someone was feeling and how best to proceed. The guy was a master at subtle communication, such as mirroring, and framing conversations so he would be dominant.
He was able to use this social intelligence to get with girls, but he would also use it to get people to do things he wanted.
One of the clearest examples of manipulation that I know of is that he got his friend to break up with his long time girlfriend. His friend’s girlfriend was kinda a drag and would be a little annoying around the group. So, he subtly started to slip in emotional and logical “suggestions” whenever he saw his friend in a moment of emotional vulnerability. Within a week, his friend ended the relationship.
Note: this post originally had 60 images. It’s been shortened to the top 30 images based on user votes.