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In movies and TV, a character who is portrayed as highly intellectual has visible signifiers.

A smart character can be found in the library, immersed in tons of reading. They may wear spectacles. They may be characterized as socially awkward because they're usually withdrawn from society.

In real life, however, a person with a high IQ is not as easily identified by common Hollywood stereotypes of smart people.

To explore the notion that a person can't easily be pegged as a brain, Redditor Gisgiii asked:
"What is a subtle sign that someone is really intelligent?"

The minds of really smart individuals never stop working.


"They draw wisdom from multiple sources. Wait but that might be more wise than intelligent... But I guess those two tend to be seen together a lot."

– Puzzlehead-Engineer

Inquisitive Minds

"They are curious about everything."

"To be intelligent you need to be knowledgeable and you cant be knowledgeable if you are never curious."

– soup54461

The way highly intelligent people interact with others is slightly different.

Social Adaptability

"They can switch up the way they talk to match the person they're talking to without sounding condescending. They listen to how others learn and explain it in that person's language of understanding."

– Wynonna99

Talking On Level Ground

"Talking to people as if they're intelligent at their level and without being condescending or even letting on that it's lower than their level."

"I used to work with a doctor - Tom Howard - and the day I realized he was a genius was the time he guessed every single condition a patient of mine had based on minute piece of information about him."

– Yoodei_Mon

The Humble Professor

"No joke. The smartest professor I had in engineering school was also the most humble. She was an astounding human being. By week 2, she knew everyone's names by heart in the intro engineering course. In College. With like 180 students. Later, in upper division classes, people would occasionally ask some really stupid questions."

"Like, it happens... you get so deep into some fluid mechanics derivation or something you forget something really basic. People would ask a question like this and everyone would be thinking like; 'Wow, how did you even make it this far?' but then... it's like she would spot the flaw in their understanding so perfectly, and then respond with such clarity and wisdom that the person asking the question would look less stupid and the whole class would be enlightened."

"And here's the thing... I pride myself on being really good at that exact skill. I tutored a lot of people. I was easily one of the brightest amongst my peers. But that woman was on another level. It was mind-blowing."

"And it wasn't just her intelligence, but her organizational skills, discipline, consistency.... And yet... she was so humble. She was quiet and physically quite small. But she just exuded competence and immediately commanded every room she walked into. I've never seen anything quite like it."

– EngineeringNeverEnds

A Positive Effect

"When they explain something they make you feel intelligent."

– gwoshmi

When In Doubt

"They know when their knowledge ends and say something to the extent of 'I don't know and anything else i say on this topic is ignorant speculation.'"


Some with impressive IQs may deal with questions in the following ways.

Reaction To Delayed Responses

"'You really think about everything don't you?' - a doctor, to me, after he asked me a question and I took longer than 2 seconds to answer it."

"No, I just pull something out of my @ss every time and those extra seconds you waited for me to answer were purely to irritate you for my own enjoyment."

– Imakegoatnoises

The Really Good Questions

"They can ask really good questions."

"Edit: to anyone not understanding what mean, I’m talking about people who ask 'really good questions,' not just any questions, really good ones. I don’t know how one would achieve this skill(I know I haven’t)."

– milkmanbran

Taking Pause

"They spend time thinking before asking a question."

– ParkMan73

"Some of the smartest people don’t comment at all."

– metric-poet

I agree with many of the comments saying a really intelligent person knows how to cater the conversation towards another person's level of understanding.

They do have the impressive skill to convey something in a way that can easily be understood. Some of the most venerated professors at my university were like this, and their classes were always the hardest to get in to.

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