I’ve seen people of average intelligence perceived as being highly intelligent in several scenarios, and in my experience there are usually a few things in common:
- That person is in some kind of position of power or authority. It could be that they are a boss/manager/leader, it could be that they are wealthy, it could be that they are physically fit, or tall, have a resonant voice, or are just dominant in some way. It could be very subtle.
- The person is very confident. They believe that they are correct, and are unlikely to believe someone understands something better than they do.
- The person doesn’t hesitate to quote other people or claim other ideas as their own. They may not even know they are doing this. This means they often say smart-sounding things that they may not even understand themselves.
- The person has a blunt communication style. They don’t use a whole lot of emotional sensitivity in their communication, and are unafraid of offending.
You might notice that the last three points are also signs of poor self-awareness. Many average-intelligence people believe they have superior intellects. They aren’t just tricking the people around them—they’re tricking themselves, too.
EDIT: comments and conversations have reminded me of a few other factors that could lead someone into thinking of another as intelligent.
5. The person has an over-the-top vocabulary. Someone using big and/or obscure words (or jargon) can convince others that they know more than they really do by making what they’re saying hard to understand. I write more about the tricks people pull on other people with jargon in my article about.
6. The person is condescending to others. This could be more of a sub-item of either the «position of power» or «confidence» points I made earlier, but it’s a big enough topic to get its own bullet point. When someone looks down on another person, we often subconsciously believe that they’re doing so because they are intellectually superior. And often this is false.
Edit 2: I’ll make a quick comment on a few interesting thoughts people have shared about different types of intelligence.
I agree with those of you who have brought up that there are many different types of intelligence.
The type I’m attempting to unpack here is the one that I believe the questioner was asking about: the social construct. It’s the type measured on tests, the typerecognized in the workplace, the type caricatured by media.
I don’t believe there’s really an objective measure of intelligence—though we’ve attempted to create objective measurements like the IQ which only measure a narrow range of factors.
I know that’s vague, but the question wasn’t really about what intelligence is, so I won’t get too far into it in this answer.