You have a messy desk
istock/lovro77 Intelligence is difficult to define—psychologists have been arguing about it for years. According to Cornell professor Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, intelligence is the ability “to learn from experience, adapt to new situations, understand and handle abstract concepts, and use knowledge to manipulate one’s environment.” Skills like perception, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem-solving facilitate these abilities. To that end, certain habits may be evidence you’ve got these skills. For example, you’d think someone who was intelligent would be organized and have everything in their work space arranged neatly—but that’s not the case. In an experiment from the University of Minnesota, people in a messy setting came up with more creative ideas than those in a neat space. “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” says study author Kathleen Vohs, PhD. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.” Creativity is one of the traits that smarter people tend to possess—and so conversely, it may actually lead to messiness, adds Jonathan Wai, PhD, a research scientist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP). “I’d guess that it’s not messiness that helps creativity, but creativity which may create messiness,” he says. “Such people tend to get lost in thought focusing on a problem or issue, and cleanliness becomes of less importance than focusing on the problem at hand.” Don’t miss these other easy, science-backed ways to look smarter.
You stay up late
istock/mediaphotos In movies, the creative genius always works late into the wee hours of the night by candlelight—and perhaps this stereotype is rooted in fact. A study from the London School of Economics and Political Science found that people who tend to go to bed later have higher IQs. The study authors believe the root of why this is lies in our evolution—because nighttime was a more dangerous place, our ancestors who ventured into it instead of going to sleep needed to be more intelligent. Also, staying awake into the night was a new idea that was attractive to curious minds. Today, our varying circadian rhythms still may reflect this. “Perhaps [some smart people] stay up later because their internal clocks are simply different,” Dr. Wai says. “Or, perhaps they stay up later because they tend to be introverted, and like being up late at night without distractions to think and solve problems.” But if you are a night owl, remember to still get your seven to nine hours of sleep. Find out which other sleep habit geniuses have in common.