Identifying the Profoundly Gifted

How do you identify an individual with an IQ of 160+?

An IQ of 160+ is Profoundly Gifted or PG. Good Quora answers, as well as books, websites and articles on the internet, have been written on the “traits of the profoundly gifted.” However, those traits do not quickly become apparent, especially to the neurotypical (normal or average IQ ) person. Even the mildly to fairly gifted (120–140 IQ) might not recognize the PG person as being gifted.

If we could just walk around identifying people’s IQ without lengthy, expensive, and in depth tests administered by highly educated and specially trained individuals, there would be no need for such tests. The more I read about IQ and the profoundly gifted, and the more I interact with such people, the more I realize that it is not possible to compare two individuals with the same level IQ. Especially PG.

The reason for this is asynchronous development, meaning we don’t all have our strengths in the same area. To illustrate, I’m going to make up a story using fictitious characters and situations, all based on real-life situations I’ve either read or heard about. Let’s say there are three individuals, Ted, Carl, and Sylvia, who all have been tested to have IQs in the 180–200 range. This means all three fit the category requested by the OP and have IQs of 160+ and are Profoundly Gifted.

I will write each person’s story and compare them to also show strengths and weaknesses, outstanding successes and outstanding failures. In addition, I will tell you what you would see if you met one of them in real life. In the end, I will let you decide if they appear like a PG person with an IQ of 160+.

Then you will get to shake hands with Zack Smith, another fictitious but realistic person.


Ted built his own electric car at a time when no one had yet heard of such a thing but he knew it had to be possible so he did the research, figured out how to make it work, and did it. That was when he was barely old enough to drive. Today he’s working at the cutting edge of engineering something or other that I’ve never heard of. Rumor has it that he once fired a cleaning lady because she told someone that some of his closet doors didn’t close because he didn’t know how to fix them. Since then, no one is even allowed into his home. People wonder if he ever cleans. He never takes home a woman to anyone’s knowledge.


Carl, who dropped out of high school at age sixteen, was leading a team of engineers with PhDs at the age of eighteen, answering their questions and feeling like a fake because he didn’t have the formal education they did. “If you ever go for more education,” these people told him, “don’t go for a math-based program because you’ll know more than your teachers.” He applied to programs in political science and philosophy.


Sylvia basically knows what people are thinking and going to say next simply by watching their unconscious mannerisms in the context of the situation but can’t balance a cheque-book to save her life. To handle this handicap, Sylvia simply buys within her price range, a range she has determined a long time ago is adequate for her lifestyle and within the means of her bank account. Because of her talent for reading others, she shines in her volunteer work with mentally handicapped children, people with Alzheimer’s, and with rescue animals. Her colleagues comment on her patience and never guess at her own handicap.

Outstanding Strengths Balanced by Outstanding Weaknesses

So that’s the story of three people who have IQs well over 160. There is probably no single question that you could ask that all three would answer correctly.

Carl who grew up on the farm and Sylvia who grew up over a hardware store would not be caught with non-functioning closet doors and drawers without knobs as have been reported in Ted’s house. Remember, he fired a cleaning lady for reporting that he was unable to fix closet doors.

Ted and Carl do math in their sleep, but Sylvia can’t balance a cheque-book to save her life.

And Carl, the high school dropout who advised PhD students, still feels like a fake because he never finished either of his undergrad degrees. Like so many other projects, he started with lots of enthusiasm and held it for two and a half years but somehow, when he realized how close he was to the finish mark and started thinking how wonderful it would be to be free from school forever, he lost all the umph he had ever had. He simply didn’t sit for the exams of his half finished second last semester. He dropped out. Again. But he had a successful career and didn’t need the education so long as he didn’t compare himself with people like Sylvia and Ted.

Sylvia may be respected and even admired in her current positions, but she never forgot her failed career as an elementary school teacher. After sticking it out for decades, trying this school and that, but never fitting in with the other teachers and the principles, always shut down when she made suggestions no matter how tactfully she made them, finally she accepted that she was no good with people, and took a part time job at the animal shelter. There she got along great with humans and animals alike. One thing led to another and now she is happily engaged in paid and volunteer work as described above, respected by colleagues and trusted by her charges.

That’s three people who are very successful but who have all experienced significant failure.

Meet Our Three PG Heroes

Why is it so hard to notice a person’s high IQ? Let’s go meet these three PG folk.

Are you ever going to guess that the woman bent over a dog or a child or coaxing a senile person to come to dinner is a profoundly intelligent person on the same level as the men who invented such marvels? On the other hand, when you see Ted you’re not going to think so much about high IQ and great inventions as you’re going to ask when this man last saw a barber.

As for Carl, he is well-groomed and looks intelligent enough, until you look more closely. You’ll notice that he’s always moving, jiggling, shifting, tapping his foot. He’s got one of those problems—ADHD maybe—that makes people so they can’t sit still.

Zack Smith

Zack Smith has agreed to a ten-minute meeting in his opulent office at the top of a financial tower in Toronto.

I arranged the meeting with Zack and the two of us, you and me, are sitting on comfortable chairs in a dim-lit waiting room tastefully adorned with green plants in the corner and on low tables, soft music playing on speakers. The well-but-discreetly-groomed receptionist sits behind a large desk with all the paraphernalia of front desks in office suites such as computer, telephone, papers.

“You may go in to see him now,” she says in modulated voice, indicating the hallway to her side.

Since the hushed air of the place seems to demand it, we walk silently and respectfully past the doors of Zack Smith’s colleagues’ offices to meet the man in the hallway. Zack Smith is a sight to please the eyes: tall, middle-aged, well-dressed in dark suit and tie, pale blue dress shirt, polished shoes, cleanly shaved and neat haircut. He is wearing two pieces of jewelry: a mid-range priced watch that makes no statement other than that the wearer is practical, and a wedding ring. With muted introductions we shake hands and he leads us into his office.

With a quick glance, you take in the neat desk, the shelves of books, the usual office knick-knacks, framed pictures, and family photos. You can’t hold it in anymore.

“But where are all the inventions?” you ask. “They said you have an IQ of 195 and that you are profoundly gifted but this looks like any old nice office.”

Suddenly you are embarrassed at the rude outburst but Zack chuckles in amusement. He is not offended at all and you relax.

“Who is ‘they’?” he asks, looks at me and says, “You mean Sarah?” He chuckles again. You nod, not sure where this is going. He continues in a mock stern voice, “She should not have told you. I don’t like to flaunt my IQ. It tends to get me into trouble.”

I jump in at this point and explain, “This is my point exactly. I wanted them to meet a ‘normal’ high-IQ person. I couldn’t think of anyone who better fits the bill. Thank you for accommodating us.”

Outside, I explain to you that Zack grew up on a rundown farm in the sticks, the youngest of a large Catholic family that didn’t believe in birth control and that had no money because his alcoholic father drank it all down and his mother was too battered and weary to attend to her many babies.

Your jaw drops and you say in amazement, “So being in that office is the miracle of his high IQ in and of itself!”

I agree.


The gifts of the Profoundly Gifted manifest in so many different ways—I would argue that no two are the same—that it is not possible to identify them on the street like marked criminals. I don’t watch TV and I don’t go to the movies, but someone* said these media profile a popular image of the highly intelligent person that sits well with the average IQ person. That does not replicate real life.

*Here’s the answer referred to: Samuel Joseph’s answer to Is the concept of smart people a myth? Read the entire answer; here is a quote:

The problem is most peoples understanding of what ‘smart’ is has been influenced and tampered with by television and movies. They believe the behaviour of a fictitious characters is a literal representation of the human condition. This is accepted in their world. There is little to no thinking involved. The fact the character has been purposefully written to be received by the audiences a certain way, goes straight over their heads…

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