A Sign of Intelligence: Appearances Deceive

Sign of Intelligence? Perception vs Truth

A sign of intelligence may reveal itself as something much different from mental ability. At times, it is masked behind disorganization, impulsivity, or emotionality. We have measures to evaluate various types of intellect and attribute academic success as a sign of intelligence. While these indicators lend some credence, a deeper look suggests one’s observation provides only a narrow scope of a person’s ability to gain and apply knowledge.

A more significant sign of intelligence is our ability to look beyond this, and instead of reducing a person to a perception, point of view, or belief, honor the complexity of each human being. Recognize that each person is the sum of a lifetime of experiences you know nothing of, that intelligence is so much more than mental ability, and you will come closer to the truth.

A Sign of Intelligence? Observations of A Polish Chicken

Our neighbor raises several chickens and added a pair of beautiful Polish chickens to the flock this year. Upon our visit, we were told the new additions weren’t very bright. The chicken with buff-colored feathers was so dense that she couldn’t find her way out of the coop. She paced back and forth, franticly crashing into the sides of the cage. It was clear to me that the enormous tuft that garnished her head caused significant impairment to her sight.

Poultry historians (chicken experts) believe the Dutch bred Polish chickens to develop attractive plumage and enhance their colors and patterns. These massive crests often impair their sight, which makes them more susceptible to predators, causing them to be easily frightened and flighty.

The chicken’s behavior was not a sign of a lack of intelligence but a sign of impairment and a need for self-protection. The phenomenon of creating impairment and then suggesting subsequent behavior is a sign of intelligence lacking, is not exclusive to Polish Chickens.

Emotional Reactivity Can Make Anyone Struggle

A survival response to self-protection leads to difficulty controlling your emotions. Emotionally activated and pulled away from higher-level cognitive skills, functioning comes from your brain’s emotional center. As such, your ability to think before reacting, self-monitor, or have flexible thought becomes lessened.

By itself, behavior that lacks mental skill or self-control is a poor measure of intelligence. Consider for individuals living within a toxic relationship or an impoverished, unsafe home that environmental stressors lead to difficulty in memory and cognition. Educators misjudge kids who come from harsh conditions. Without a backstory, we may regard these impaired presentations as evidence they are just another dumb chicken.


We see impaired presentations when there is high polarization on an emotionally weighted topic. The narratives under these conditions have the potential to become absurd. Even the most astute and educated person may blurt something like “because he’s the devil and… he eats babies!” With mouth agape, wondering what happened, you’ll find others who will agree.

Poisonous news convinces groups of people to question their safety. If a like-minded group feels vulnerable, extreme opinions may escalate. Is this not a sign of an evolutionary response, as opposed to a sign of intelligence or lack thereof?

A Tactic to Divide: In Emotional Mind, Perceptions Can Be Manipulated

There are individual and collective motivations to skew the perception of intelligence. Media shapes perceptions through the repetition of a sound bite. The intentional presentation of facts may either reduce or elevate individuals’ or groups’ intellect and value. These tactics affirm limiting beliefs, inflame sides, polarize people, and activate a need to self-protect. Beware of rogue immigrants, rampant illness, and people who hate you.

We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.

The Truman Show

There are YouTube and news channels devoted to discrediting entire groups of people. Collective experiences may be denied and their opinions and beliefs dismissed. Whenever groupthink suggests withholding basic humanity from people presumed to be less intelligent, explore underlying motivations thoughtfully.

A Sign of Intelligence: Looking the Part

For many reasons, there is motivation to dress for the perception of credibility and to look intelligent. Why? Not to be questioned, to shut down the opposition, and crush your ‘enemy’. At an earlier time, looking smart and learning the facts hid my feelings of vulnerability. I enjoyed being the one who knew more about certain subjects and was quick to shoot down perspectives that did not align with my own experiences and knowledge set. I believed the facts didn’t lie, and that I had them.

I now know that conclusions from research data are not infallible when the motivation to find a particular result is the driving force. As a psychology major in the 1990s, I could argue that the chemical imbalance theory indisputably evidenced that some people needed to take psycho-pharmaceuticals. There were no other perspectives. It took years of collecting real experiential data to question what I believed were hard truths. Many years later, those who indoctrinated a generation came clean on the ‘science’.

Sign of Intelligence?
Knowledge is Power, So Look Smart

Credentials and Titles. Are They A Sign of Intelligence?

While credentials should indicate that a person has some competence in a particular area and mean they devoted at least a certain amount of effort toward obtaining the credential, it’s best to view it as just that. There is considerable variation within areas of expertise, and a few initials after a name should reflect some core knowledge. Yet, this gives you little insight into the various types of intelligence they possess (or don’t).

Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.

The Wizard of Oz:

Not Looking the Part: Safety in Shrinking

Reasons to shrink.

Fears of being perceived as too much, defying gender roles, or stepping outside others’ view of us present a challenge to stay true to our authenticity. While this experience is not unique to women, displaying intelligence stereotypically associated with masculine qualities is often disapprovingly viewed when you are female. There was a time not too long ago when Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits elicited such utter disdain that the ‘extremes’ suggested it was evidence that she wanted to take over the world.

When my mother was young she was straight up told: “Diane, be quiet and just look pretty.” This combination of instructions led to self-doubt, a narrow view of her worth, minimizing her talents, and, unsurprisingly, boundary violations that she’ll never speak of. In my youth, I decided to strive for the credentials that were proof of intelligence but buffered the backlash by also hyper-focusing on maintaining a stereotypical feminine outward appearance. These outward masks, this vanity, provided little more than the illusion of safety.

Young people today, have different challenges with added dysfunctional twists. Social media has opened the door to sharing and comparing in a way that offers only superficial glimpses of the people they are. The result…

Broccoli Freckles.

In my rural retreat, I block out a fair amount of chatter from the outside world, so what is trending or popular occurs way below my radar. Recently, a radio host spoke about a video of a woman demonstrating how to apply makeup with broccoli to achieve the appearance of freckles. My first reaction was harshly critical. I thought it moronic that a person wanted to add makeup freckles to her face and record a ridiculous video to document it.

Throughout time, those with the luxury to obsess over their appearance often will. A preoccupation with attractiveness has a shrinking effect, with the potential to exclude other self-development. Our culture grooms young people, girls, in particular, to focus in this way. This grooming may be why broccoli freckles videos have generated millions of TikTok views and followers.

Has a culture of distraction, superficiality, and focus on ‘lesser’ things negatively affected intellect? Is this a sign of intelligence diminishing? I believe it is, but if I push my knee-jerk biases aside, is applying makeup to one’s face with a vegetable to achieve a desired look inane or genius? At the very least, this could be the most creative use for a broccoli floret and, therefore, a sign of creative intelligence.

Many Types of Intelligence: Expanded View of a Sign of Intelligence

If you search the web for types of intelligence, you’ll find approximately twenty different categories. How well someone performs linguistically, mathematically, or interpersonally usually comes to mind when we think of intelligence. A slightly expanded view considers the use and mastery of physical, musical and spatial skills as well as, emotional intelligence.

An Unconventional Sign of Intelligence

For several years, I’ve offered classes to the same group of developmentally disabled adults. The day after suddenly losing my cat, I reluctantly went to teach a class. One of the men approached me in his plain-spoken way and asked, “You loved your cat?” When I said yes, he outstretched his arms and said, “Com’ ear.” I felt seen, cared for, and consoled.

He unintentionally demonstrated an overlooked sign of intelligence… empathy. Such a pure expression is untainted by an intellect that searches for just the right words or correctness. His emotional intelligence is not dependent on higher reasoning but likely developed from a lifetime of experience with loss.

Several Truths Exist Simultaneously

The majority, (approximately 70%) of the population is of average general intelligence, as evidenced by standardized tests that measure primarily analytical and logical reasoning. So what about the average middle? How are we doing?

Stupid is as Stupid Does.

Forrest Gump

A Sad Sign of Intelligence: The Corporate Contribution

Sign of Intelligence
Corporate Dumb Down

This IKEA sign circulated on the internet several years ago, and although funny, highlights something despairing. Can you imagine the lawsuit? The plaintiff says, ” I thought I could purchase a 5-foot cinnamon bun for $1″. ( I wish! Read: My Secret Sugar Addiction)

We’ve become desensitized to the absurdity of disclaimers, whether to inform you not to eat inedible products or to hide real risk between the lines of what sounds like a ridiculous list of side effects. Corporate marketing suggests you don’t have time to look at ingredients to consider the potential risks of your purchases (whatever those risks may be, and there are many). It seduces consumers to trust the marketing, push aside any concerns, and buy it already!

Applying What You Know

In January of this year, news sources released findings that bottled water can contain hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics. Across news sources, the word was out: If you are drinking bottled water, you’re ingesting plastic. I’m outrageously fortunate to have well water, so I fill glass mason jars and take them with me. But, if I forget and someone offers me a bottle of water, I take it. Knowing something is bad for you and not applying what you know feels foolish.

Critical Thinking: A Sign of Intelligence that helps you: “form a judgment by the application of rational, skeptical, and unbiased analyses and evaluation.”

Accusing people of not using critical thinking has become the new insult. Claims that a person or group fails to evaluate objectively simply because their thoughts and opinions differ from ones own is an easy way to shut down dialogue. It quickly disregards another’s knowledge, perspective or opinion. Ironically, this is the opposite of thinking critically. We cannot evaluate or analyze what we shut out.

If we suggest people aren’t using critical thinking to weigh pros and cons, form judgements and take appropriate action, isn’t the bigger question: Where are we personally failing ourselves?

A Sign of Intelligence: Refusal to Judge What You Don’t Know

I had a spiritual mentor who said his goal became to live with “soft eyes.” My eyes have not always been soft but, at times, hardened and cynical. On some vulnerable days, they still are. I’ve noticed the more self-compassionate I can be, the less rigid I am. So, when someone is single-minded in word or action, the high road tells me to have compassion because they must lack it for themselves.

A Sign of Intelligence: Embracing the Energy of Personal Responsibility

We become aware of our ignorance when we hold ourselves to our highest ideals of fairness and humility. It’s uncomfortable to admit what we don’t know, especially if we think it makes us look stupid. Accepting that all people have different competencies unlocks the keys to personal responsibility and growth. At times, the challenge is entertaining ideas and perspectives far outside our experiences.

Those Who Were Seen Dancing Were Thought To Be Insane By Those Who Could Not Hear The Music.

Friedrich Nietzsche

In 2010, I enrolled in Shamanic Training with a shaman I have a great deal of respect for. Her ability to work with energy and communicate with the natural environment inspired me. It challenged me to expand my thinking about the unseen and develop untapped sensitivities. At one point during the training, she commented that the elementals, nature spirits, were active where we were sitting. She saw them. I thought, this is nuts! What else don’t I see?

Make Space For Higher Intelligence

Feeling esteemed about our cognitive abilities can lead to the dismissal of higher intelligence. When you quiet your mind, other senses develop that increase your inherent ability to know based on how you feel. The connection affirms there is an intelligence better than any other that we are all part of, and it will guide you. Read more: Your Higher Self: Master Your Divining Rod and “Use Higher Knowledge: A Rare Credible Source”

A Sign of Intelligence: What I Know to be True

  • Many types of intelligence are broader than general mental ability
  • Polish chickens are friendly, gentle, and more intelligent than they appear, despite being easily startled
  • Your beliefs are determining factors in what you ultimately experience. As such, your experiences vary according to them. To upgrade your beliefs, seek higher truths!
  • We are all equally powerful beings regardless of any outward sign of intelligence and should honor one another as such
  • When we imagine ourselves and the world as we want it to be, we bring that into our experiences

Perceived Value Based on Intelligence

Someone who displays a sign of intelligence that brings material success may be more valued and esteemed than someone who displays other signs of intelligence. It is no measure of actual worth. We ALL have inherent nobility. Money will not buy solace, replace loved ones, or offer true wealth. If you learn quickly and apply your knowledge for more than personal gain thank you. The world needs your brilliant mind.

If you struggle with executive functioning, know that you don’t need outside measures to validate your intelligence. Spend time in environments that make you feel at ease, and your gifts will reveal themselves. Beautiful fish need beautiful ponds, lakes and streams, not fishbowls or bicycles. Those of you whose intelligence is most apparent in how you show up for people: You are the way showers. Please continue to shine your light and inspire others with your presence. You enrich our lives simply by being.

I aspire to be that smart.

Please visit my Coaching Services page for information about coaching appointments or contact me to schedule your first meeting. Align yourself with what comes naturally to develop your self-trust. The value of your authenticity is immeasurably more than any outside measure.

Estelle Bonaceto
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3 thoughts on “Sign of Intelligence? Perception vs Truth

  1. thank you for teaching me about broccoli freckles! it is fascinating to think about how beauty standards have changed in different cultures through time. people have historically done all manner of seemingly absurd or uncomfortable things in order to be perceived as beautiful.

    1. This is true Zach. In my youth, I wore uncomfortable clothes, shoes and slept with rollers in my hair. Ha!

      1. i used to straighten my hair, even when i knew it was bad for it. i didn’t want to accept myself for who i was, that i had naturally wavy hair. i desired to conform to a particular subculture that would deem me beautiful. this groupthink was extremely prevalent in my youth, and it kind of fell away in my adulthood to be replaced by an extremely strong sense of individuality. now i am the only one who gets to decide what i think is attractive.

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