More often than not, we notice the not-so-bright people walking around us, blaring their extreme opinions while being completely uninformed on the subject. It’s one of life’s great mysteries—those of lesser intelligence tend to overestimate how clever they are, while smart people do the exact opposite.

So when user blissfulhavoc posted “What is a subtle sign that someone is intelligent/sharp?” on r/AskReddit, fellow members quickly rolled up their sleeves. It seems that clever people might not advertise the fact that they’re smart but others sure do notice it. Hundreds started sharing their opinions about the tell-tale traits that prove someone is bright and sharp.

Find the best answers Bored Panda has collected from this viral thread right below, and share your thoughts with us in the comments. Psst! After you’re done, be sure to check out our previous post on even more signs that might prove you’re smarter than you think.

#1

When they don't know something they look it up immediatly. They can't stand not knowing because they are curious about it and want to know more.

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Joy
Community Member
6 months ago

It's only when I left school that I realised learning is fun

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#2

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person I think there are so many different types of intelligence that it’s hard to narrow down one defining trait. Social intelligence, spatial intelligence, problem solving, etc.

I’m from a very rural area with a high poverty rate. I grew up working on a cattle ranch. One of the guys I worked with had to drop out of school in 4th grade to work full time doing agricultural work for his family. He had to work really hard as an adult to reach even a 6th grade reading level. He doesn’t read for pleasure, and by the standards of an educated, urban person, he’d be considered pretty ignorant. However, he can build anything. Fences, mechanical things, buildings, sprinkler systems, you name it. He’s funny as hell, and as a kid working around him I had no idea he was barely literate until his 30s.

One of my brothers is absolutely brilliant. Well read, follows world politics, works in IT at a high level. He’s the smartest person I know, easily, in terms of processing complicated information and retaining it in a useful way. He could absolutely build a computer, but put him on a horse and ask him to go get cattle off the back forty or repair a fence and… no way. He’s also good company, but not always the most socially adept, in that he has almost no street smarts and doesn’t understand concepts like flattery, or other mostly harmless ways that people manipulate those around them as a social lubricant.

Which one of them is smarter? Depends on what you need them to accomplish.

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Joy
Community Member
6 months ago

I agree. I know surgeons whose brains can only function in a highly specific way, but when it comes to common sense they slide way down on the bean pole.

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#3

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person They ask questions. Smart people don't get smart by acting like they know everything.

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Lauren Caswell
Community Member
6 months ago (edited)

A risky venture on BP, I get a lot of sarcastic 'google it' answers here when I ask about something 🤷‍♀️ (edit: thanks everyone telling me to google it anyway, seriously guys?! If I ask something, I have already looked it up or I have chosen to ask, I am aware of bias, and I know how to google. I'm not asking because I am unaware of googles existence 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️)

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While intelligence comes in many forms, we all probably have a stereotypical image of a clever person in mind. You could picture them sitting in the library, surrounded by books. Perhaps they are wearing glasses and seem a bit socially awkward. Or maybe they always have fascinating facts on hand to keep the conversation going. The truth is, bright people have many different traits, and a high IQ test is not the only way to measure a person’s mental abilities.

“A highly intelligent person is one who is flexible in their thinking and can adapt to changes, they think before they speak or act, and they’re able to effectively manage their emotions,” Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed clinical psychologist and neurotherapist, told Bustle. “In short, they possess several different types of intelligence, including but not limited to intellectual, social, and emotional intelligence.”

#4

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person They're willing to consider different viewpoints when presented with compelling evidence, and accept when they make a mistake.

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Foxxy (The Original)
Community Member
6 months ago (edited)

It's not hard for me to admit when I'm wrong. I've often been stand corrected and am not ashamed to apologise and admit my mistake.

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#5

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person A willingness to learn

Dumb ppl think they know everything so they don't bother.

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Samantha Lomb
Community Member
6 months ago

I'm always amazed at the number of people who think school is the end of the learning process and don't try to keep learning as adults. I guess its one of the reasons people saying "well I wasn't taught that n school" annoys me. School is supposed to be a very basic foundation

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#6

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person The ability to change their mind when presented with new information. Intelligence is, at its core, a constant reassessment of your own knowledge and the ability to acquire and apply more.

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Foxxy (The Original)
Community Member
6 months ago (edited)

I have changed my thought process on a few things, with the biggest being hunting. I used to be ALL hunting is bad but it's far more complicated than that and is actually needed. And I am not talking about trophy hunting. That is not something I will ever agree on.

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One subtle trait that these people share is that they’re observant. “In a world where people talk to prove who they are, highly intelligent people are the opposite,” Jackson mentioned. Well, maybe you’re not exactly Sherlock Holmes, but noticing the little details and taking everything in can still suggest brilliance. Sharp people often refrain from loudly sharing their opinions and accomplishments. Instead, they prefer to remain quiet and observe their surroundings.

Also, understanding you can’t know it all is another low-key sign intelligent people have. “If they can’t do something, they don’t try and act as if they can,” the licensed clinical psychologist explained. “Instead, they know their limits and can admit it. This allows them to be open to learning more from others and/or situations.”

#7

They quite frequently explain things or answer questions with “it depends”. Intelligent people tend to have a hard time explaining something they know a lot about because it’s hard to boil any particular topic or object down to one portion of it or another rather than the way in which the whole interacts.

When they do provide a straightforward answer that only singles out one component as the explanation, it will be prefaced with a pretty non-committal phrase like “I could be wrong, but…” or “generally,”. This is less reliable than an “it depends” though.

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D. Pitbull
Community Member
6 months ago

Thank you. I appreciate this. It is very frustrating when you're asked a question (about something you know something about...) and you pause so you don't stutter, then start with "Well, it depends..." and suddenly the other person cuts you off with some sort of dismissive remark like "Oh, I see that this is a sore spot, never mind." or... "Well, that was a very tense way to start things, it's okay to say you don't know" ... or "Don't answer if you feel uncomfortable" - then you start wondering "Did you really want me to answer or... were you trying to set me up to look inferior...?"

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#8

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person They are aware of their limitations and just how much they still don't know. As a consequence they also tend to underestimate themselves.

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Samantha Lomb
Community Member
6 months ago

The more you learn the more painfully evident it is how little we know. So many PhD students have a heart attack and or imposter syndrome when they realize this.

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#9

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person They have a look. Their eyes look AT things/people, not THROUGH things/people. And that doesn’t necessarily mean direct eye contact (because a lot of people with ASD for example struggle with eye contact), but you can tell they are constantly observing, consciously looking at the world, not just witnessing it passively.

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Otter
Community Member
6 months ago

Not necessarily an indication of intelligence, because at any given moment, an intelligent person may be thinking of something more interesting than the dull reality around them.

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Next, they tend to go with the flow and don’t spend a lot of time worrying about things they can’t control. “Rather than being rigid about what must happen, they remain mentally flexible, open-minded and can easily adjust to life, no matter what gets thrown their way,” Jackson noted. 

Andi Simon, Ph.D., a corporate anthropologist and an author of Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, added that quick-witted people don’t ask questions for the sake of asking. They do so with purpose. 

“Someone must have said this often-quoted line: ’Knowledge is having the right answer. Intelligence is asking the right question,’” she said. “We forget that all of life is a conversation. Intelligent people recognize that others have information and insights that through a shared conversation will help both grow, expand their wisdom and enhance their intellect.”

#10

I mean at this point, just believing the earth is a sphere is good enough for me.

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Buren
Community Member
6 months ago

The key of happiness is low expectation.

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#11

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person They don’t immediately attack you for having an unpopular view that’s different.

Intelligence is being able to entertain an idea while not being convinced by it.

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Samantha Lomb
Community Member
6 months ago

I think it depends on the view. There is a community of trolls that thinks saying blatantly racist or sexist things ( or denying the existence of racism or sexism) is just having another opinion and seem to have developed a persecution complex when called on these behaviors

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#12

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person They listen first and then speak or ask questions after understanding.

The bright/intelligent people I know have an unusual ability to digest a situation and then posit a question or frame a position that cuts through the noise and advances everyone’s thought process.

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william mcgloin
Community Member
6 months ago

A wise man once said nothing...

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So there are many ways to look at intelligence, but it’s clear that it goes beyond book smarts. Sharp people strive for lifelong curiosity and a never-ending thirst for knowledge. And if there’s one thing we can be sure of—their brain cells never seem to stop working.

#13

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person A very smart person once told me “if you walk away from any new challenge and didn’t learn anything, you weren’t paying attention”. Best advice I’ve ever heard.

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Mr.Knaps
Community Member
6 months ago

But if I walk away with the wrong type of new intellect? For example if I get in trouble and walk away with intelligence to get better at causing trouble.

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#14

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person Quick wit and humor

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DUN DUN (she/her)
Community Member
6 months ago

*Chuckles nervously*...Soo, I'mma head out now

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#15

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person They listen instead of talk. A former CIA agent was asked this question and his answer was this because he said the quietest person in the room is listening to everything that’s being said which makes them the smartest and most dangerous.

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Otter
Community Member
6 months ago

Not necessarily an indication of intelligence. In this case, it could be an indication of a person who doesn't dare talk about himself.

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#16

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person I’m an industrial technician troubleshooter supervisor, And sometimes I have to work with the electrical engineers. The head engineer is highly intelligent, and the way and the order that he asks questions so he can come to an understanding of the Issue forces me to think in a process that hurts my brain. I don’t know how they can handle it Day In and Day out.

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Julie C Rose
Community Member
6 months ago

This should be higher. A lot of the answers here come off like “I like it when smart people make it clear that they don’t think they’re better than me”, which isn’t the same thing as intelligence.

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#17

They read. A lot. I’m sorry, but I’ve never met a truly intelligent person who wasn’t an avid reader.

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Peej Maybe
Community Member
6 months ago

Not just read but often read way outside their comfort zones or fields of expertise.

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#18

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person One of the most common is they stumble over words and/or have bad handwriting. Because their mouth and hand have trouble keeping up.

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Candy corn
Community Member
6 months ago

I must be a a f****n’ genius then

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#19

They don't partake in debates with loud ignorant people.

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Kathryn Baylis
Community Member
6 months ago

Yep. As you walk away, tell them you’ll be happy to discuss it when they can do so calmly and rationally.

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#20

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person They can explain difficult matter in an easy way

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Otter
Community Member
6 months ago

Some people say "If you can explain the science to a fifth grader, then you're truly master of your subject". I don't know if that's true, but it is an interesting challenge, and I'm sitting here thinking about how to explain blood PH to grade schoolers...

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#21

They ask GOOD questions. Questions that indicate that while they don’t know the answer they have a damn good idea how to start finding it. They will ask fewer but better questions, confirm the answer by restating it first morning clarity, and often seek extra information or ask you too before making a decision.

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Flying Captain
Community Member
6 months ago

*Intelligent people no matter intro- or extroverted will usually ask follow up questions yes. But the asking questions in general... introverts prefer not to if they see the chance that they can find the solution otherwise. Ofc they will ask if not found...i just wanted to disagree that the quiet ones are not necessarily less intelligent than the others.

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#22

Mate at work is able to explain things perfectly. He does away with all the complicated jargon and explains things as if you're a simpleton without making you feel like one.

Asked him to have a look at my digital calipers a while back and, while he couldn't fix it, he explained in detail what was wrong with it, how to fix it, and how the mechanism in question makes the calipers work.

He's an invaluable friend and a much better mentor.

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Paul Davis
Community Member
6 months ago (edited)

This doesn't always work -- many times dumb people don't want the answer unless it's in three small words or less, and is completely in line with their pre-decided view of what the problem and answer "should" be, and get very angry if you don't give them that as the answer no matter how senseless or destructive that viewpoint is. There are, in fact, very, very few people I know who would stand for any reasonable discussion of how calipers work and how to fix them.

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#23

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person Waiting a few seconds to ponder a question before answering instead of blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.

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Julie C Rose
Community Member
6 months ago

I’ve heard that extroverts often think out loud because that’s just how they organise their thoughts. It’s got nothing to do with intelligence.

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#24

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person Two ways: - When it comes to a subject matter they know they can deconstruct in a way to explain it and use analogies to help it make sense to others. - With subject matter they don’t understand they will ask questions for their own comprehension and ask you for examples/analogies so they can frame the concept in their mind.

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Robert Thompson
Community Member
6 months ago

I had a guy working for me we called him "Mexican Robert" (Other Roberts included White Robert and me, Boss Robert). Occasionally the new guy would ask me if Mexican Robert spoke English. My answer: Yes! He can use the English language to paint a vivid picture in your mind in a way that no English professor ever could. Also, Mexican Robert didn't know any Spanish, it was just a nick name to differentiate the three of us.

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#25

Curiosity.

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DforDory
Community Member
6 months ago

..killed the cat. I'll show myself out now :))

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#26

when they drop an interesting "factoid" and you respond with "cool, i wonder if _______", they have an answer for it, or at least a couple of different ideas, because they actually looked into it instead of just regurgitating it.

the smart people i know are not comfortable having "shallow knowledge" about anything. if they do, then they don't bring it up confidently. if they bring it up at all, it's usually to ask questions from someone who knows more about it.

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Don't Look
Community Member
6 months ago

I do this more than I would like to. I've been doing it all my life. I take a subject, learn more about it than necessary and then for the most part I don't forget it.

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#27

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person They listen to every word you say and ask a follow-up question that you never even thought of, but ends up completely changing your way of thinking.

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Kathryn Baylis
Community Member
6 months ago

But only if you’re open to taking follow up questions. There are far too many people who have a strict “my way or the highway” or “I’m only going to say this once” kind of attitude that doesn’t welcome questions from anybody. They’re difficult as hell to break through and bring to understand that everyone filters information differently, and some may need to ask clarifying questions to be sure they truly understand you.

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#28

One of my favorite Shakespearean lines is “brevity is the soul of wit”

I think a measure of intelligence is to take in complex information and convey it in simple terms for others to understand.

Conversely, I don’t think much of people who do the opposite to make themselves appear smarter than they are.

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Izzy Curer
Community Member
6 months ago (edited)

Social intelligence is only one kind of intelligence. Carl Sagan is a good example. He wasn't the smartest astronomer in the world, but he was the best astronomer who could communicate complex ideas clearly in a way that people could understand. And now everybody's heard of him, but who's ever heard of, say, Marc Aaronson? I also don't think everybody who 'over explains' is trying to sound smart, I think a lot of people are just used to feeling misunderstood or unheard. I have this problem. It comes from childhood trauma. Believe me, I'm not trying to 'look smart', it has more to do with anxiety than anything.

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#29

Depends on the living arrangements. It's hard to know from the outside. Intelligence is the ability to learn, retain, recall, apply, and abstract. Knowledge and Wisdom are not good indicators of actual intelligence.

Intelligent individuals can be anything. They could be apathetic, or impassioned. They could speak like a thesaurus, or fumble simple sentences. They could seek tertiary education, or lack both a High School Degree, and a GED.

Living situations dictate an individuals intellectual display more than personality quirks, so it'll be complicated.

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BAN CAPITAL LETTERS
Community Member
6 months ago

brevity is the soul of wit

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#30

People Point Out 30 Low-Key Signs Of A Highly Intelligent Person In my experience, it's the people that are always open to a constructive argument (or conversation, depending on their knowledge on the topic), regardless of the topic. One big condition: this only counts when they're able to admit they don't know everything on the topic, or ask people who know more about it to inform them.

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Joy
Community Member
6 months ago

"I don't know" would be the three smartest words a politician could say.

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