Psychologists and other experts have come up with many ways of looking at human intelligence.
You’ve probably heard of IQ (intelligence quotient) tests. These assessments are specifically designed to measure aptitude and ability.
But intelligence isn’t all about IQ, and here’s why:
- IQ tests measure specific skills like reasoning, memory, and problem-solving. They can’t capture the broader picture of your capabilities overall.
- IQ tests don’t assess important traits like creativity or emotional skills.
- People from different backgrounds have varying levels of familiarity with test concepts and structure, so low scores may not always represent actual intellectual abilities.
2016 research reviewsuggests people with autism often have higher intelligence than standardized IQ tests indicate. This intelligence is simply imbalanced in ways that can negatively affect social interactions and task performance.
However, some experts believe a single test can’t give a clear picture of intelligence. They argue that we need to consider not just one but multiple types of intelligence.
One popular theory, introduced by psychologist and professor Howard Gardner, suggests eight different types of intelligence exist.
They are as follows:
|Intelligence type||Skills and abilities involved|
|linguistic||sensitivity to spoken and written language; ability to use language to achieve goals|
|logical or mathematical||ability to analyze logically, to do mathematical tasks, and investigate scientifically|
|spatial||awareness of an ability to use wide space and smaller patterns, as in geometry|
|bodily-kinesthetic||ability to use the whole body to create, perform, or solve problems|
|musical||refers to the skills of composing, performing, and appreciating music and musical patterns|
|interpersonal||ability to understand the intentions and desires of others, which helps a person work well with other people|
|intrapersonal||ability of a person to reflect on and understand themselves, including their feelings, motivations, and abilities|
|naturalist||recognition and classification of different species, weather patterns, and other natural phenomena|
However, there are some problems with this system. For one thing, it is difficult to assess or measure them and to separate them out from each other. For example, one could argue that classifying species is a scientific activity, and therefore a sign of logical intelligence.
Here are some other terms people sometimes use to describe intelligence:
- emotional intelligence, how a person responds to their own and others’s emotions
- sexual intelligence, awareness of the concepts and complexities of sexuality
- social intelligence, similar to Gardner’s interpersonal intelligence
Approaches like that of Gardner may not be perfect, but they can help you reflect on your own strengths.
Below are 11 aptitudes or abilities to explore that might also help you understand which types of intelligence are strongest for you.
1. You’re empathetic
Empathy, commonly described as the ability to experience things from someone else’s perspective, is a key component of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence refers to your ability to understand emotions and express them in healthy and productive ways.
Acknowledging your own emotions is an important first step; however, people with high emotional intelligence generally have a pretty good awareness of what others think and feel as well.
High empathy usually means you can sense when people are struggling, often through subtle signs in their body language or behavior. Empathy can also show up as a deeper level of consideration and acceptance of the varied experiences of others.
Like any skill, empathy develops when you flex it — so learning more about others and expressing your concern for them can foster even stronger emotional intelligence.
Here are some tips for improving emotional intelligence:
- learn how to manage your impulsive feelings and behaviors
- reflect on your emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behaviors
- recognize your strengths and weaknesses and look for ways to boost your self-confidence
- practice taking the initiative and following through on commitments
- pay attention to the feelings, needs, and concerns of those around you
- observe and learn about the power dynamics in a group
- practice communicating clearly, asking others for feedback and advice
- in group situations, practice managing conflict rather than adding to it
These can actions contribute to stable relationships within a team and with other individuals. It can also help people reach their goals and improve their overall quality of life.
2. You value solitude
Need plenty of time to relax and recharge on your own? You might already recognize your introversion, but you may not know that finding fulfillment in your own company can also suggest intelligence.
According to a
Some might take this to mean intelligent people dislike other people in general or have few friends, but here’s another take: Both introversion and intelligence typically involve spending time in your own head, where you might reflect on problems, brainstorm new ideas, and mull over past experiences.
The more time you spend socializing, the less time you have for introspective thinking and pursuing your own interests and projects. So, you could easily have several close relationships and cherish the time you spend with loved ones — as long as you get enough time for yourself.
In short, you know exactly what works for you in terms of interaction (and if you guessed this self-awareness was another sign of intelligence, you’d be right).
3. You have a strong sense of self
Knowing what you need from your interactions is just one part of self-awareness.
Your personal sense of identity also relates to your perception of your:
- traits and abilities
- life values
- key life goals and desires
- other defining characteristics
A well-developed sense of self signals a high level of intelligence, since a strong self-identity typically means you:
- feel secure in who you are
- know where your skills lie
- have the confidence to make choices that reflect your beliefs
It can take time to discover these things about yourself. Even once you’ve established your identity for yourself, it can still take some effort to:
- feel comfortable expressing yourself freely
- setting (and honoring) your own boundaries
- choosing a path that aligns with your values or personal code
Not quite there yet? Don’t worry: We’ve got tips to help you kick off your own self-discovery journey.
4. You always want to know more
Perhaps simple explanations never satisfy you. You enjoy reading, art, and exploring other languages and cultures.
You ask thoughtful questions that get to the heart of an issue, spend hours delving into the mines of the internet to explore a new interest, or take things apart simply to see how they work.
Your curiosity might also show up as an interest in the lives and experiences of others. These traits, along with open-mindedness and a willingness to question your own beliefs, fall under the umbrella of openness to experience, a Big Five personality trait.
Curiosity, in all its forms, appears closely tied to intelligence.
In one 2016 study, researchers exploring potential factors that might impact openness looked at data following 5,672 people from birth to age 50. They found that children who had higher IQ scores at age 11 tended to show greater openness to experience at age 50.
When you want answers to your questions, you go looking for them. So, you continue learning throughout life — perhaps even more than you expected.
Instead of accepting “That’s just how it is” as an answer, you strive to find out why. You’re more likely to see the full picture of a given situation, complete with nuances and complex shades of gray, than a flat black-and-white photograph.
5. You observe and remember
Often praised for your powers of observation? Maybe you’re not exactly Sherlock Holmes, but noticing what happens around you can still suggest intelligence.
In fact, the ability to notice and observe can relate to different types of intelligence:
- Good eye for patterns? Maybe your observations show up in your creative work. These are elements of spatial-visual intelligence.
- Great memory for things you read or hear? That’s your verbal-linguistic intelligence at work.
- A deep understanding of nature may even be a type of intelligence, according to Gardner. Naturalist intelligence might show up, for example, as an innate ability to recognize patterns or changes in a natural environment.
6. You have good body memory
Intelligence can show up in a physical context, too.
Maybe you can’t explain how to get to a specific restaurant, but your body knows the way — even though you only walked to that part of town once, several years ago.
Or perhaps you pick up complicated dance steps after your instructor demonstrates them just once.
High bodily-kinesthetic intelligence can translate to better dexterity and coordination. You remember patterns of movement and you can also replicate them without much effort.
This can make you pretty good at sports and other physical activity, but it can also improve your skill with fine details.
7. You can handle the challenges life tosses at you
Life isn’t always simple, and some people find its complex twists and turns easier to face than others.
Adaptability is a key component of intelligence. It describes your ability to adjust to new situations or changing events. This trait can also connect to resilience, which is your ability to recover from adversity.
Maybe you stand up to uncertainty, ready to meet whatever comes your way head-on. Even when things don’t play out the way you hoped, you bounce back quickly, ready to keep trying.
These characteristics emphasize your intelligence — particularly when you weather adversity with a sense of humor. Research from 2017 links appreciation of dark humor to higher intelligence, while 2011 research links humor to creativity and intelligence.
8. You have a knack for keeping the peace
Strong interpersonal skills also indicate intelligence.
Take conflict resolution. Maybe you have a gift for peacemaking between disgruntled coworkers or quarreling friends. Even when you were younger, you found it easy to calm sibling battles or cheer up frustrated parents.
This skill has several components, all of which tie back to intelligence:
- You read the body language of others, which can offer the first clues to conflict.
- You use these signals to ask questions and listen empathically to get a full story from both sides.
- You encourage those involved to consider other perspectives.
- You help strategize potential solutions to the problem.
Getting along well with others may not automatically translate to academic genius; however, most would agree it’s a useful form of intelligence.
9. You tend to worry about things
Worrying, in basic terms, equates to preparing yourself for the possibility of something unpleasant. People who live with anxiety generally spend a lot of time worrying, even about things they recognize as pretty unlikely to happen.
This might seem somewhat contradictory, but consider these possible explanations:
- Highly intelligent people may not spend much time stressing over things they know are unlikely to happen. They might also feel more secure in their ability to handle any challenges that do come up. As a result of this confidence, they worry less.
- On the other hand, highly intelligent people might spend more time worrying because they have extensive knowledge of potential threats and want to prepare for every possibility. This worry might involve brainstorming plans to handle the situation or thinking of ways to avoid trouble.
People tend to look at anxiety as a negative trait, but this finding emphasizes the essential function of anxiety: recognizing and responding to danger.
Still, unchecked anxiety absolutely can have a negative impact on relationships and overall well-being, so it’s best to talk with a therapist when you have a hard time managing rumination and worry by yourself.
10. You’re good at managing your emotions
Everyone deals with painful or unwanted emotions from time to time. That’s a normal part of life. The way you handle those emotions can say a lot about your emotional intelligence, though.
Generally speaking, people with high emotional intelligence can:
- recognize complex emotions
- understand how those emotions affect choices and behavior
- respond to those emotions productively
- exercise self-control to express feelings at appropriate times
- express feelings in safe and healthy ways
Like other aspects of emotional intelligence, emotional regulation skills develop with practice. Get started with these tips for better emotion regulation.
11. You have a pet
Pet ownership appears to have a positive impact on mental health for many people.
People with pets often:
How, you might wonder, do those benefits relate to intelligence?
Let’s say you talk to your pet when you’re upset. Like talking to yourself, venting your frustration to a pet that always listens can help you process pain and distress, leading to an improved mood.
It’s a good way to manage emotions. And good emotional regulation, as noted above, is a key sign of emotional intelligence.
Does the type of pet you have matter?
In one 2017 study, researchers looking at 418 students found that the 66 participants who described themselves as cat people earned higher scores on measures of self-reliance, abstractedness, and general intelligence.
Those who considered themselves dog people earned higher scores for warmth, social boldness, and liveliness.
According to a 2010 study exploring different personality traits in dog people and cat people, dog lovers tend to score higher on the Big Five traits of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
Cat lovers scored higher on measures of openness and neuroticism. Openness, as you might recall, has been linked to intelligence.
This doesn’t necessarily mean people who choose canine companions are less intelligent. These findings simply offer some insight on how your unique abilities might guide your pet preference.
Certain traits associated with dog people, like extroversion, might even suggest higher interpersonal intelligence.
Is talking to yourself a sign of intelligence?
Is cursing a sign of intelligence?
In a 2015 study, researchers compared vocabulary and fluency levels between people who swore a lot and those who didn’t. They found no difference between the two groups, suggesting that people who curse and produce taboo words are no less fluent or conscientious than those who don’t. The exception was in the use of female-sex-related slurs.
What kind of intelligence do you have?
If you are curious to know what kind of intelligence you are strongest in, you can try a quiz. Various quizzes are available online, like this one, based on the work of Howard Gardner.
There are plenty of ways to look at intelligence, but most experts recognize that it goes well beyond book smarts.
It doesn’t necessarily matter that you weren’t singled out as gifted early in your elementary days. Maybe you sat back in class daydreaming about distant worlds and sketching them in your notebook or skipped school entirely to work or help take care of family members.
These traits suggest intelligence, too.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.