Anatomy of a Genius (September 2018)

From their potty mouths to their dark humor, super-smart people share traits you might not consider to be signs of intelligence

By Marissa Laliberte, Reader’s Digest, September 2018, pp. 62-69


People whose minds wander the most score highest on basic IQ tests, according to a study in Neuro psychologia. Like the proverbial absent minded professor, someone who is spacey but smart has the brain capacity to stop paying attention, then go right back to a conversation without missing a beat, says study coauthor Eric Schumacher, PhD.


A study in Language Sciences found that the more taboo words the participants could think of, the larger their overall vocabulary.


Do you think that night owls are just undisciplined? A 2011 review found that students who went to bed late instead of turning in early did the best on intelligence tests measuring reasoning, math and language skills, and more. (If they didn’t earn the highest grades, that’s probably because early class times left them sleep-deprived.)


People who wrote the funniest captions for cartoons also scored best on abstract-reasoning tests, with even stronger advantages in verbal-skills tests, according to a study published in the journal Intelligence.


Yes, gamers do tend to be highly intelligent—well, some gamers, at least. Those who score well in strategy-heavy games do better than average on IQ tests, according to a British study. Being a wiz on more action-packed games, however, doesn’t correspond to higher intelligence.


Bright people are more likely to find dark jokes funny, according to a study in the journal Cognitive Processing. The brain needs to get the irony of a dark joke first, then reinterpret it to find the humor, and researchers say an efficient brain is better at that.


Doing a crossword or a Sudoku every day to keep your mind sharp may seem like a recent concept. In fact, people have been challenging their brains with puzzles as far back as 3,600 years ago, when the ancient Egyptians developed math problems on papyrus and wooden tablets. Here are some other fun facts about brain games in history:

1. The first crossword puzzle was printed in the New York World on December 21, 1913, but not everyone was a fan. In 1924, the New York Times described crosswords as a “sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern.” (The Times didn’t publish its first crossword until 1942.)

2. Sudoku means “single number” in Japanese (because you use each number only once per row and column). Based on an 18th-century Swiss game, it was adapted and released as Sudoku by a Japanese publisher in 1984.

3. Lewis Carroll is best known as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he was also a gifted mathematician who developed games of logic that combined his analytical and storytelling skills.

4. Mark Twain tried his hand at developing a board game of historical trivia called Mark Twain’s Memory Builder. It didn’t sell anywhere near as well as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but you can visit to try it.


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