12 Proven Ways to Appear Smarter Than You Really Are

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One of my favorite sayings is, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Unfortunately, sometimes you need to speak on a subject even if you are stretching. But there are methods to make yourself look and sound more intelligent. We’ve rounded up 12 top tips you can easily put into action, even if you don’t feel smarter than a fifth-grader.

1. Brush off your middle initial

Blank name tag.
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A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology in 2014 found that the use of a middle initial can make you seem more intellectual.

While the study didn’t specifically address the use of a first initial, I have a sneaking suspicion that it, too, could make you look smarter. After all, doesn’t “F. Scott Fitzgerald” sound more authoritative than “Francis Fitzgerald”?

2. Take out the contacts and put on the glasses

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Another way to look more intelligent before you ever speak a word is to wear glasses. Psychology Today lays out some of the research that suggests people believe you are smarter if you wear glasses.

Other research indicates that not just any glasses will do. For the full effect, you’ll want thick-rimmed glasses. Think Leonard Hofstadter from “The Big Bang Theory” glasses. On the downside, those big glasses will likely make you look less attractive. But, hey, you can’t have it all.

3. Focus on looking bright-eyed

Woman looking through a frame created by her hands.
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Speaking of eyes, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found people are perceived to be less intelligent when they have droopy eyelids or a slight frown than when they have more open eyes and a slight smile.

Researchers note that sleep-deprived people tend to have both characteristics of droopy eyes and a sad-looking face. So, getting a good night’s sleep may be key to mastering this trick to looker smarter.

4. Put down the beer

Man raising a glass of beer in cheer
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Everyone seems to lose a few IQ points after downing a few drinks, but the mere presence of alcohol in your hand can make you look like a dimwit. In a 2013 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers called this the “imbibing idiot bias.”

In other words, even if you don’t take a sip, the fact that you’re holding an alcoholic drink may give the impression you’re just moments away from being a blithering idiot.

5. Skip gargantuan polysyllabic words

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I know, you just learned what “idiosyncratic” means and want to use it everywhere. But doing so greatly increases your chances of looking like a lame wannabe. Truly smart people use clear, concise language, and by using bigger words than necessary, you risk others thinking you are “gasconading.”

Research published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology in 2005 backs us up. It found the writers of essays who used overly complex vocabulary or too many words were judged to actually be less intelligent.

6. Make eye contact

two men shake hands and make eye contact
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While you’re speaking clear, concise words, be sure to make eye contact with the other person. It’s a simple way to raise your perceived IQ, as found in this 2007 research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

7. Ask questions rather than make statements

Woman with question mark sign in front of her face
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You may think sharing your extensive knowledge on all subjects known to man would make you seem smart, but you’d be wrong. Rather, it may make you look like a pompous windbag.

A better approach may be to ask questions or, more specifically, ask for advice. Research out of the Harvard Business School found those who ask for advice are deemed more competent than those who do not.

8. Dress to impress, but keep your assets covered

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If you want to be seen as an intellectual giant, consider putting away the red and reaching for the black instead. According to a survey by an online clothing retailer, only 12% of people thought red was an intelligent color, whereas black got high marks for being both smart and confident.

Speaking of clothes, remember that modest attire is your friend. Researchers from the University of Maryland and Yale University conducted a series of experiments that found when people were regarded as sexual objects, they were perceived as less intelligent. So protest as you will, ladies, but keep the cleavage in check if you want to look like the mental superstar you are.

9. Stand tall and straight

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I didn’t realize it until researching this article, but apparently taller people are more intelligent than shorter people. As someone who is 5-foot-4, I find this study result a bit troublesome. Nevertheless, let’s put it to our advantage!

Even if you’re not tall, you can make the most of what you’ve got. Good posture can signal that you’re powerful and in control, so if you’re trying to impress someone with your brain, make sure you’re standing or sitting up straight.

10. Take care of your teeth

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A survey of 1,047 people found that people with straight teeth are 38% more likely to be perceived as smart than those with crooked teeth.

Beyond making you look smarter, good teeth can help you appear younger and more attractive to boot. Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to skip evening brushing and flossing.

11. Clean up your language

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You may think a few well-placed swear words add emphasis to your point or color to your personality. But they could, in fact, be making you look like a dummy. A 2012 CareerBuilder survey found that 54% of employers say swearing at work makes someone appear less intelligent.

Resorting to a string of profanities to get your point across may give the impression you’re not smart enough to express yourself in another way.

12. Skip the body mods

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Look, I don’t want to stifle your individuality or creativity here, but the reality is that facial piercings can make people question your intellectual prowess. Or at least that’s the finding of a 2012 study published in European Psychologist. Researchers report that the more facial piercings you have, the more negatively people feel about your intelligence. What’s more, men fare worse than women when it comes to dropping perceived IQ points because of piercings.

Finally, look into my eyes and notice my fabulous posture because I, Maryalene T. LaPonsie, would like to ask: What do you think? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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