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Answer by MrNoodleApr 09, 201910

Research on how humans attribute intelligence to each other suggests that most people attribute higher intelligence to efficient agents, i.e., agents whose actions most resemble what we believe is the best course of action in an uncertain situation. A minority attributes intelligence to agents based on the outcome of their actions.

People attribute intelligence to efficiency in proportion to their own ability to plan. Less competent planners attribute intelligence to outcome. To elaborate, a competent planner would evaluate the behavior of an agent and understand whether it acted rationally, regardless of its success. On the other hand, a bad planner cannot infer the reasoning of an agent; since he himself cannot foresee the best course of action, he would not understand why an agent made a particular decision, and would likely attribute high intelligence to an irrational but lucky agent since its behavior would result in a good outcome.

My interpretation of these results is that intelligent people are better at evaluating the intelligence of others. I believe that given enough time (and thus enough information to evaluate) an intelligent person can adequately estimate a peer's intelligence. It could be argued that "seeming" smart requires a sufficient degree of awareness and intelligence, although of a different kind; perhaps IQ tests do not have a wide enough scope to accurately measure different intelligence in its different forms.


Kryven, Marta. "Attributed Intelligence." (2018).