The Jeff Wise Blog

How to Trick People into Thinking You’re Intelligent

Smart people have it good. Sure, they might get beat up in high school, but once they reach adulthood, it’s the brainiacs who get the the hottest girls, the biggest paychecks, the Nobel prizes and the whatnot. This is a problem for the 50 percent of us who are below average intelligence, as well as all the rest who just aren’t all that bright. Not an insurmountable problem, though. All you have to do is figure out how to make other people think that you’re smart. Just follow these steps.

1) Be hot. A multiplicity of studies (that means “a lot”) have shown that people tend to think that good looking people are smarter than average. This is usually ascribed to something called the “Halo Effect,” which is basically the idea that if we hold a positive opinion about someone or something, we tend tend to ascribe all sorts of positive attributes to them. Okay, but what if you’re both dumb and ugly? Start here.

2) Use big words. But only if you know what they mean. And never use a word you’ve only read but never heard spoken aloud (there’s no horse in “hors d’oeuvre”). Also, unless you’re Lewis Carroll, don’t attempt freestyle linguistic mashups; these can lead others to assume that you’re suffering from a developmental disorder.

3) Remember Your IQ. One thing that trips people up when they’re a bit thick is the Downing Effect, which causes people who are of below average intelligence to think that they are of above average intelligence. This can cause all sorts of problems (cf. #2). I once had a handyman work for me who figured out how to drain my swimming pool by running a hose from its bottom up over the lip of the pool and down into a nearby drain. The water rushed out, seemingly defying gravity. “I’m using centrifugal force!” he proudly proclaimed. Yeah, no.

4) Be confident. People are more swayed by arguers who present their case confidently than by those who actually know what they’re talking about. Not only that, but people who think that they’re smart perform better on academic tests, regardless of whether they’re actually gifted or not, according to a study by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychologist at Goldsmiths University in London.

5) Dress well. In a 2008 study, undergraduate researchers at the University of Wisconsin showed test subjects pictures of a woman dressed either in a tank top and short skirt or a polo shirt and jeans. They found that when the woman was dressed like a preppy she was judged to be significantly more intelligent than when she was dressed like an extra from Girls Gone Wild. Probably a bit of halo effect going on here. Interestingly, when the woman in the photo was dressed provocatively and said to be enrolled in a predominantly female major (Early Childhood Development) she was assumed to be even less intelligent than if subjects were told she was studying a male-dominated subject (Pre-Sports Management). This probably relates to point #6:

6) Be a Man. Not only will you be significantly less likely to fall into the trap of dressing like a Hooters waitress, but you will benefit from millennia of oppression and the subsequent bias that people tend have when estimating the intelligence of men. In a 2004 study, researchers at University College, London asked subjects to estimate the intelligence of their fathers versus their mothers. On average, they said that their fathers were smarter by 3 IQ points (though they ranked their mothers as being even more superior in emotional intelligence). Note that this advice applies only to seeming smart, not to actually being smart: a 2000 study found that men actually tested lower, on average, on an IQ test than women.

7) Get Smarter. Scientists long assumed that IQ was a fixed trait, but recently research has shown that with practice it’s possible to bump up an aspect of mental musclepower called “fluid intelligence.” Susanne Jaeggi at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor led a team that asked test subjects to engage in a video brainteaser exercise, and found that after several weeks they scored higher on a general test of fluid intelligence. If that technique works, many other kinds of mental exercise might work, too. Like, who knows, reading books?

That’s about all I’ve got for you. Trying to be smart is hard and tiring! For more ideas, I suggest that you try asking the nearest egghead. You’ll recognize them because they’ll be good-looking and wearing a polo shirt.

Filed under: Psychology

2 Responses

  1. Jessica Sandlin says:

    I choked on my iced tea when I read #3…

  2. Maximus says:

    You forgot to say that you can’t fool the smart. The real thing is the real thing. Smart people can smell a fake from a mile away. Oh and by the way, I’m really really smart and really really hawt. These things sometimes actually go together, seriously.

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Thinking About Fear & the Brain

If I find myself in a severe crisis, will I be able to keep it together? How can I control anxiety and panic? Is it possible to lead a life less bounded by fear? These are the sorts of questions that I'll be exploring in this blog, an offshoot of my book, Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, published on December 8, 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan.

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