25 Revealing Signs Someone Has Low Intelligence

Get the Free Bundle: 47 Productivity and Life Planner Worksheets

There might be affiliate links on this page, which means we get a small commission of anything you buy. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Please do your own research before making any online purchase.

Share this:

Is someone in your social circles displaying signs of low intelligence from time to time? You can’t help but notice they think, speak, and act differently.

How they conduct themselves in various settings clashes with what’s socially acceptable. They might be someone dear to you, such as a family member, partner, co-worker, or best friend.

A person’s ability to apply intelligence to get through daily life ranges from low to high. While we’re not here to judge or label others, we can benefit from familiarizing ourselves with the peculiar characteristics of someone with low intelligence.

To help you spot when you’re in the company of someone with low-level intelligence, we will examine 25 tell-tale signs and how they might show up in social settings.

You can use what you learn to adjust your expectations and exercise greater patience and empathy. Opportunities may also arise for you to support the person’s desire to improve their intelligence and social skills.

What Is Intelligence?

In psychology, intelligence is defined as “the ability to derive information, learn from experience, adapt to the environment, understand, and correctly utilize thought and reason.” These are largely cognitive or mental functions. Other primary functions include grasping complex ideas, making predictions, and having emotional understanding.

Intelligence researchers refer to this as practical or functional intelligence. It’s not the same as intelligence quotient (IQ). A person’s IQ is measured on a scale from low to high based on scores. These scores largely reflect their ability to analyze.

Intelligence is also distinctly different from having knowledge, such as facts or information, about something. Intelligence and wisdom or common sense also vary from one another.

What Is Low Intelligence?

Low intelligence refers to when someone has a persistent pattern of struggling to reason, make sound decisions, or adapt compared to their peers, in similar circumstances.

Measuring practical intelligence, also called street smarts or contextual intelligence, is rather subjective.

In other words, the level depends on a range of adverse nature and nurture factors. These factors can vary widely from person to person. The individual may have had little to no control over the negative factors, particularly in childhood.

In addition to being distinct from having low IQ scores, medical experts point out that low intelligence isn’t the same as intellectual disabilities. The latter stems from life-long brain disorders.

Those who fall below a score of 70 on the standardized IQ tests are said to have an intellectual disability. They also lack the skills needed to function and adapt when faced with everyday life challenges.

Common Contributing Factors of Low Intelligence

“Nature and nurture work together in determining human intelligence.” That is according to a 2014 publication on Factors Influencing Intelligence Quotient. The publication notes various reasons why someone may show low cognitive abilities.

These individuals may persistently speak, think, or act in ways that align with someone with a low IQ or low practical human intelligence. Here are some main factors to note:

  • Genetics
  • Premature birth
  • Parental habits during pregnancy, e.g., drug and alcohol use
  • Pre and postnatal care, e.g., poor nutrition
  • Poor parenting styles
  • Environmental, e.g., poverty, household dynamics, and pollution that slow brain development
  • Brain disorders
  • Mental illness
  • Medical conditions

In their review of The Effects of Poverty on Children, J Brooks-Gunn and G J Duncan, observed how poverty affects children’s IQ.

They saw lower IQs in children from households in poverty compared to children from households with more resources. Factors such as race and parenting did not appear to impact the outcome significantly.

Here’s an interesting anomaly to note. The average adult has an intelligence level of 100 based on the general IQ scores chart. Anything between 80-89 is considered “low average.” 

A person with a low average score may still function relatively well in life relying on functional intelligence or common sense.

What Is Practical or Functional Intelligence?

Practical intelligence refers to a person’s mental ability to use reason to make good judgments based on prior knowledge or information currently available to them.

It includes intelligence gathered from life experiences that helps people think on their feet.

The term “Practical Intelligence” was coined by Robert Sternberg. The subject came up in his Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Sternberg defines it as having an “ability to find the best fit between oneself and the demands of the environment” in the following ways:

  • Adapting to the environment to meet needs or goals
  • Changing the environment if required to meet needs or goals
  • Moving to a new environment that supports meeting those needs or goals

This tacit form of intelligence is not taught. More importantly, the person has to be able to use reasoning to decide when changing and adapting is necessary. Someone with low intelligence tends to lack the capacity to carry out the mental processing needed to achieve this.

In other words, it may not occur to them that a certain action or response is required. If they do, they may not have the mental skills to plan or find solutions.

Sternberg wrote extensively about practical intelligence in his book, The Triarchic MindA New Theory of Human Intelligence.

Factors Influencing Intelligence Levels

While IQ test scores serve as IQ indicators, there’s more to intelligence than simply scoring big on an IQ test. One researcher in a 2010 study, Psychologist, Linda Gottfredson, says intelligence also requires having the ability to do these things:

  • Learn quickly
  • Plan
  • Cope with challenges
  • Solve problems
  • Think abstractly
  • Understand complex ideas
  • Learning from experience

Using deductive reasoning, you could say that lacking those abilities is a sign of low intelligence. However, things aren’t always that cut and dried. Let’s take a look at how this plays out in real life. I’ll admit, I had a few, Ah, ha!, moments myself.

25 Surefire Signs of Low Intelligence

Our level of general intelligence impacts our behavior, according to psychology experts. People who struggle with the following mental, emotional, or cognitive skills might be lacking in the intelligence department.

1. They are insecure about themselves

People who are aware they aren’t on par with others when it comes to intelligence levels may naturally show up as insecure. A tell-tale sign is appearing overly confident or being talkative.

signs of an intelligent person | signs of high intelligence | signs of intelligence
Anger is a natural and normal human emotion. When it comes to these individuals, they are less able to check themselves in the moment.

Another noticeable thing they may do is brag about their knowledge and abilities. This is only to inflate their self-importance or fish for compliments. The records may reveal they aren’t as intellectually capable as they’re letting on.

2. They have trouble with self-reflecting

Most of us are guilty of doing something reckless.

If you’re someone with high intelligence, you may regret it after a time of self-reflection. Because of low intelligence, some people keep getting into the same trouble over and over.

They tend to have a blind spot when it comes to seeing how they could’ve handled the situation in a way to get a better outcome.

3. They experience difficulty regulating emotions

Everyone gets angry at times. Anger is a natural and normal human emotion. When it comes to these individuals, they are less able to check themselves in the moment. They struggle to step away to self-regulate their emotions.

Because they lack the awareness and skills needed, they may more likely get into prolonged arguments and physical fights. Usually, someone else has to intervene to calm them down.

4. They lack emotional intelligence

In psychology, emotional understanding is a key part of a person’s ability to function responsibly. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is described as an ability to control one’s emotions. We develop the characteristics, and it helps us relate more positively with others.

Those low on the intelligence spectrum aren’t able to adequately access the area of the brain that helps humans see themselves in relation to others. This makes it harder for them to see the link between their action and your distress.

Daniel Goleman delivered an excellent piece on emotional intelligence in his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

5. They have low empathy

Empathy is a social and emotional development skill. It helps us understand the emotions of others and allows us to respond appropriately. For example, show care.

According to a study, a person’s empathetic skills tend to be higher the more intelligent they are. For example, a partner with low intelligence may dismiss the fact you’re sick and need assistance or care.

6. They struggle to accept feedback

Feedback, whether positive or negative, is designed to help us take a look at ourselves and work on improving. These individuals tend to take feedback as criticism. They also take it more to heart than those with high intelligence.

high iq | critical thinking | low intelligence in people
The individual’s lack of ability to come up with ways to deal with crises may cause them to take the easy way out.

To them, it’s a personal attack on their abilities, appearance, or whatever personal attributes they can think of. The person may walk away, give up, or shut down emotionally to cope.

7. They don’t cope well with challenges

Everyone gets stressed and overwhelmed. Low intelligence hinders someone’s ability to cope in stressful or emotionally distressing situations.

Lacking the know-how to push through the uncomfortable feelings may lead to other issues. These include long-term anxiety or recurring depression.

Trouble coping may lead to low satisfaction with work, finances, relationships, and family life.

8. They rely on unhealthy coping strategies

Coping strategies are skills needed to help us navigate setbacks without making things worse. The individual’s lack of ability to come up with ways to deal with crises may cause them to take the easy way out.

This can play out as relying on creature comforts, such as gambling, sex, alcohol, or drugs, to soothe stress or emotional distress. They are then confronted with the consequences of unhealthy choices.

9. They engage in reckless behavior

Common reckless behaviors include drunk driving, disregarding the safety of others, and casual sex with multiple partners or unfamiliar people. These actions can attract dire consequences.

Someone with low-level reasoning skills may disregard the consequences. It isn’t always intentional. They may fail to consider the negative impact on their life because of low conscious awareness.

10. They have unrealistic expectations

Some things are just not possible or within a certain timeline. If you find someone in your close circle has a habit of demanding things that are not realistic, it could be based on low reasoning abilities.

Put simply, they come across as unreasonable. They may insist you meet their expectations even though you explain it isn’t practical to do so. They may respond inappropriately. For example, getting upset or accusing you of being selfish, mean, or spiteful.

11. They’re close-minded

As the trait suggested, this group of people is mentally shut off to new ideas, information, or the opinions of others. They prefer to maintain traditional beliefs in a world that is continuously evolving. This sets them up to repeat mistakes they can avoid by being receptive to new information.

Staying stuck in old beliefs blocks their chances of increasing knowledge, achieving new goals, and enjoying new opportunities. Their lack of self-awareness prevents them from seeing the bigger picture. Instead, they’ll get upset when you challenge their outdated way of thinking or accuse you of imposing your ideals on them.

12. They’re prone to black-and-white thinking

Black-and-white thinking allows for the individual to function at two extreme ends. They tend to feel and think in absolutes.

For example, the person might say, “No one will ever marry me at my age.” Failing to appreciate the grey area in between, which is filled with possibilities, often leads to low life satisfaction.

think critically meaning | 10 signs of an intelligent woman | characteristics of an extremely intelligent person
Coupled with negative thinking and a rejection of self-growth opportunities, they usually end up with poor choices.

The grey area offers potential solutions the individual can consider to achieve positive outcomes.

However, considering other options or strategies is too complex and stressful for low-intelligence people to cope with. They feel safer operating with a fixed mindset.

13. They shun opportunities for self-growth

This tendency comes from believing they are perfectly fine the way they are. They’ll insist on refusing to work on aspects of themselves that are necessary for them to thrive.

Some may dispute scientific proof people are capable of developing self-awareness, emotional intelligence, or empathy.

Here’s a chance to be empathetic towards them. Someone lacking self-awareness will struggle to look at themselves, accept their weaknesses, and work toward self-development.

14. They make poor decisions

Making sound decisions requires several things, including the right information and self-confidence. Already closed off to receiving new knowledge or ideas makes it more problematic for them to determine what’s best.

Coupled with negative thinking and a rejection of self-growth opportunities, they usually end up with poor choices.

For example, they may settle for a meager job despite having access to resources to build a lucrative career. Their poor decision-making skills are also evident in their social and romantic choices.

15. They’re frequently indecisive

When they aren’t making poor judgment and decisions, those who struggle in the intelligence department can’t seem to make up their minds. Figuring out if or when to carry out basic daily functions can seem overwhelming.

It makes sense if they lack the cognitive or emotional skills to make up their minds. Because of these intelligence shortfalls, they may overthink things and end up making poor life choices.

16. They’re negative thinkers

Research shows negative thinkers tend to base their decisions on negative information more than positive data. Another example is fixating and ruminating on minor flaws instead of focusing on the positives or the bigger picture.

Low-intelligence individuals may find themselves prone to negative bias because it feels more comforting. These tendencies can lead to relationship conflict, lack of growth, and poor health outcomes.

17. They reject opportunities to learn

Highly intelligent people can be difficult to satisfy as far as how much knowledge and skills they can acquire. It isn’t uncommon for them to keep looking for opportunities to advance learning. My ex-husband, for example, has a Ph.D., but it’s not enough for him. 

Those hovering in the area of low smarts avoid the idea of going back to school or taking advanced courses. In their minds, they’re as brilliant as they can be. This anti-growth mindset prevents them from prospering intellectually, socially, financially, and emotionally.

18. They display high arrogance

There’s a general belief that those lacking lower-than-average intelligence make up for the deficit through arrogance. But don’t try telling an arrogant person they act like know-it-alls. Not only will it upset them, they’re likely to spew more arrogance.

low intelligence | low intelligence in people | high iq
Low-intelligence individuals may find themselves prone to negative bias because it feels more comforting.

Another display of arrogance is struggling to admit they don’t know something. They’d rather make up a story or exaggerate information to look intelligent. I’ve experienced this a few times with individuals with strong narcissistic traits.

19. They struggle to solve life problems on their own

Problem-solving calls for special mental skills, such as being able to assess and analyze a situation correctly. This information is then used to identify positive solutions which can produce favorable results.

Those lower down on the intelligence scale may remain stuck or come up with a solution that isn’t appropriate in the circumstances. Other times, the solution makes the situation worse. For example, leaving their job and risking economic hardship because they don’t like their boss.

20. They’re afraid to take risks

Risk-taking is one of the trademarks of successful people. They may not enjoy taking risks but are nonetheless aware risks can pay off. They will do the groundwork to predict when to take calculated (not reckless) risks, such as when to invest.

The fixed mindset of those with low-level intelligence and expecting negative outcomes bar them from making these moves. Consequently, they lose out on opportunities for growth and success.

21. They’re afraid of failure

I don’t think anyone has accomplished all of their goals 100% of the time. And that’s okay. Failure can be informative and motivating. It can teach us valuable lessons and build character.

Someone affected by low-level thinking and reasoning doesn’t want to deal with the uncomfortable emotions of failure. Instead, they will focus their efforts on low-level tasks or goals they are certain they can accomplish. Here’s where they get their gratification.

However, the lack of challenge or novelty leaves them feeling inadequate and like a failure.

22. Their social skills leave much to be desired

Good communication skills and an ability to ‘read the room’ help enhance our social experiences. People with low intelligence know what they want to say but struggle to express themselves in socially appropriate ways.

For example, using sarcasm, backhanded compliments, or manipulation to communicate or get their needs met socially.

They often fail to pick up on the social cues or body language of others. Trouble emotionally connecting in social settings causes them to miss cues intended to guide their behavior toward others.

23. They’re super sensitive

High emotional sensitivity is linked to a failure to complete emotional development during childhood.

This makes it tougher for those with below-average intelligence to not take everything so personally. They are strong feelers and internalize things negatively, leaving them frequently in distress.

You may love this person. However, being around them often feels tense and unsafe. Sometimes it feels like you have to tip-toe-around them to avoid hurting their feelings.

You may find yourself constantly apologizing or overexplaining to keep the peace. Living this way can eventually take a toll on your mental health.

24. They can’t think for themselves

You can easily spot this person if they rely mostly on what someone else or research says. If you ask a follow-up question to get more insight, they’ll likely be unable to provide a proper answer. They may say something like, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

I dated someone who enjoyed advising me to, “Google it.” That was his benchmark for proving knowledge and intelligence. I think it was his way to try and insult my intelligence even before giving me a chance to share my knowledge on the subject.

Do you know someone like this? To me, it makes the person look insecure and unattractive, especially being someone who relishes an intellectual challenge.

25. They fear change

People with low intelligence can sometimes be regimented and static. They become set in their ways and comfortable with routines. It’s easy to mistake this as being “grounded.”

They do desire change, but fear of novelty can be crippling. Change creates uncertainty about the future and a potential for failure. They won’t risk it! Deep down they worry they don’t have the tools or resilience needed to adapt to the unknown.

How to Deal with Someone Who Shows Signs of Low Intelligence

Don’t take it personally. Knowing the signs prepares you for what to expect and how to best respond. To recap, the characteristics of low intelligence link back to cognitive and emotional difficulties in various areas, including:

  • Reasoning things out
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Connecting with people’s emotions
  • Understanding complex situations
  • Adapting to suit changes, other people’s personalities, or new circumstances

Your awareness of the signs can assist you in better understanding and communicating with them.

I definitely do not recommend calling anyone dumb or even implying so. There’s a risk of infuriating them or causing long-term psychological harm.

If you feel the need to bring their behavior to their attention, I recommend always addressing your observations from a place of empathy. What this means is putting yourself in the person’s shoes and speaking to them the way you would prefer someone to treat you.

Here are two more important points to note before you go.

  • These individuals may show a higher level of intelligence compared to others in other aspects of life.
  • People with high intelligence can also display signs of low intelligence.

Final Thoughts on Signs of Low Intelligence

Any one of us can end up acting as if we have low intelligence regardless of our intelligence level. It’s a part of being human.

The key thing to look for is an ongoing pattern of characteristics or behavior that aligns with low intelligence. The subject is somewhat touchy.

If you feel inclined to offer insight to help the person, be mindful, kind, and gentle. Want an idea? Share 105 Intelligence Affirmations to Raise Your IQ with someone you think can benefit from them.

And if you're looking for similar articles, be sure to check out this blog posts:

signs of low intelligence | low intelligence | low intelligence in people
Share this: