7 Ways to Look Smarter Than You Really Are

albert einstein

Albert Einstein | Central Press/Getty Images

No one wants to look like a dunce. In our effort to prove our intelligence to our peers, people may correct other people’s grammar, lie about having read important books, inflate their job title, or pretend they’re fluent in a foreign language, a British study found. Overall, 80% of people ‘fessed up to stretching the truth in order to appear more intellectual.

Unfortunately, the tricks we use to convince friends, dates, co-workers, and bosses that we’re geniuses may not work. Putting on a serious facial expression, using big words, and walking fast are among the things people do in an effort to seem smart, the Wall Street Journal reported. But those behaviors don’t increase other people’s perceptions of our intelligence, according to research. In fact, the more effort you put into looking smart, the more likely you are to look like a faker, Nora Murphy, a professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University who has studied the way people perceive intelligence, told the paper.

Still, there are some things you can do to look smarter, even if you’re not a member of Mensa. These tricks can be especially useful during job interviews and other work situations where you want to come off as competent and intelligent. While there’s no substitute for preparing for an interview or putting together a knock-your-socks-off proposal for your boss, these small moves could help make you – and your ideas – seem pretty genius.

1. Wear glasses

woman in glasses looking up with light idea bulb

Woman in glasses | iStock.com/SIphotography

Nearsighted job seekers who want to impress at their next interview should opt for glasses over contacts. Forty-three percent of people say wearing glasses makes a person look more intelligent. Thirty-six percent said donning specs made someone look more professional, a survey by the United Kingdom’s College of Optometrists found.

The assumptions people make about glasses-wearers aren’t totally off base, other research has found. Fifty-three percent of college graduates in one German study were nearsighted, compared to 24% who hadn’t completed any education beyond high school.

2. Use a middle initial

bill gates business card

Bill Gates’ first business card | Ron Wurzer/Getty Images

A quick resume fix could make HR sit up and take notice of your application. People who used a middle initial were seen as smarter than those who didn’t use an initial, according to a 2014 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Readers rated an author’s performance more highly when they used a middle initial, the study found. Using the initial also increased the person’s perceived status.

3. Avoid booze at work functions

Man drinking beer

Man drinking beer | George Marks/Getty Images

When you’re ordering a drink at a client dinner, office party, or other work event, opt for soda over alcohol. Simply holding a glass of beer in your hand makes people think you’re less intelligent. Researchers dubbed the effect the “imbibing idiot bias” in an article published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

In one of several studies conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan, people holding an alcoholic beverage in a photo were rated as less intelligent than those drinking water – more proof that it’s time to scrub those drunk spring break photos from your social media accounts. In another part of the study, “Job candidates who ordered wine during an interview held over dinner were viewed as less intelligent and less hireable than candidates who ordered soda.” However, MBA students surveyed said they’d probably order wine during the interview to make themselves appear more intelligent – a potentially costly mistake.

4. Look at people when speaking

candidate in a job interview

Man in a job interview | iStock.com

To really sell your big idea in a meeting, trying looking at the people in the room as you talk, not at your notes. Looking at people when speaking makes you look smarter, according to research by Murphy. Shifty eyes, on the other hand, suggested a person was less intelligent.

“Higher rates of looking while speaking were significantly correlated with measured IQ, indicating a valid cue for intelligence judgments. Higher rates of looking while speaking also were significantly correlated with perceived intelligence,” Murphy wrote.

5. Keep the pace

Young businessman with a briefcase and glasses running

Young businessman running with a briefcase | iStock.com/master1305

Going with the flow can make other people think you’re smarter than you really are, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. People who walked either faster or slower than the average person were seen as less intelligent.

“[H]uman targets walking more slowly or quickly than other humans appeared to possess inferior mental capacities,” the study’s authors wrote. In the case of slow-moving individuals, people may have assumed they “were inept because they required more time to perform simple tasks, like walking.”

6. Stick a graph in your next presentation

man looking at graphs

Man looking at graphs | iStock.com

To wow your boss and colleagues, try sticking a graph in your next presentation. People are more likely to trust information if it seems scientific, researchers at Cornell University found. Participants in the study were asked to read information about a new drug. Half also saw a graph, which did not provide any new information about the medication. People who saw the graph were more likely to say the medication was effective than those who only read the text. The difference didn’t have anything to do with the graphs making the information easier to understand. Rather, people thought the graphs looked scientific, and that made them more likely to believe the information presented.

“Anything that looks scientific can make information you read a lot more convincing,” the study’s lead author Aner Tal, PhD, said in a statement.

7. Put down the thesaurus

jay mohr

Actor/comedian Jay Mohr holds a thesaurus | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Trying to show off how smart you are by dropping $2 words into your emails can backfire, according to Princeton University professor Daniel Oppenheimer. Even though intelligence and having a large vocabulary are correlated, introducing “needless complexity” into your writing makes readers think you’re less intelligent, Oppenheimer’s research found.

That doesn’t mean you need to banish long words from your writing entirely, though. In certain situations, using jargon might signal you’re a member of an “in” group and make you look smarter, Oppenheimer speculated. In other cases, “when a long word is actually the best word for the occasion, it very well may be that using it will lead to positive appraisals.”

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