Over on Quora, more than 100 people have answered the question “What are the common traits of highly intelligent people?”
Some users claim to know from personal experience (so humble); others are just taking an educated guess.
As it turns out, many users gave answers that researchers would agree with.
We pulled eleven of the most intriguing Quora responses and explained the science behind them. Here’s what we learned.
1. They’re highly adaptable
Several Quora users noted that intelligent people are flexible and able to thrive in different settings. As Donna F Hammett writes, intelligent people adapt by “showing what can be done regardless of the complications or restrictions placed upon them.”
Recent psychological research supports this idea. Intelligence depends on being able to change your own behaviors in order to cope more effectively with your environment, or make changes to the environment you’re in.
2. They understand how much they don’t know
The smartest folks are able to admit when they aren’t familiar with a particular concept. As Jim Winer writes, intelligent people “are not afraid to say: ‘I don’t know.’ If they don’t know it, they can learn it.”
Winer’s observation is backed up by a classic study by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, which found that the less intelligent you are, the more you overestimate your cognitive abilities.
In one experiment, for example, students who’d scored in the lowest quartile on a test adapted from the LSAT overestimated the number of questions they’d gotten right by nearly 50%. Meanwhile, those who’d scored in the top quartile slightly underestimated how many questions they’d gotten right.
3. They have insatiable curiosity
Albert Einstein reportedly said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”
Or, as Keyzurbur Alas puts it, “intelligent people let themselves become fascinated by things others take for granted.”
Research published in 2016 suggests that there’s a link between childhood intelligence and openness to experience — which encompasses intellectual curiosity — in adulthood.
Scientists followed thousands of people born in the UK for 50 years and learned that 11-year-olds who’d scored higher on an IQ test turned out to be more open to experience at 50.