People might perceive someone with charisma as a good speaker, capable of influencing others. Others might say they have a great personality. Though it would be easy to assume that people with charisma have it naturally, researchers involved in a new study believe there’s something else behind their bright personas.

The study, published in Psychological Science, found people were thought to be more charismatic when they were able to quickly respond to basic trivia questions, regardless of how they scored on IQ tests or personality quizzes. "Our findings show that social intelligence is more than just knowing the right thing to do," said psychological scientist William von Hippel, of the University of Queensland in Australia, in a press release. "Social intelligence also requires an ability to execute, and the quickness of our mind is an important component of that ability."

To find out why some people seem to be more charismatic than others, von Hippel and his team conducted two different studies involving a total of 417 participants. Each of the participants in the study were given tests to gauge their mental speed, which researchers hypothesized correlated with levels of charisma.

The first study asked participants’ friends to rate how charismatic, funny, and quick-witted the participants were. Participants were then asked to answer 30 general trivia questions, such as “name a precious gem,” as fast as they could to test their mental speed. In the second study, participants were given one of two tests: In one, they were asked to quickly determine where on a computer screen a dot was — it was either on the left or right side. In the other, they were asked to quickly determine if two patterns were identical or different. Their friends also judged them on the three aspects of charisma, as well as their social skills.

"We decided to take a slightly different approach to the problem by trying to get a handle on what enables charisma," von Hippel said. "When we looked at charismatic leaders, musicians, and other public figures, one thing that stood out is that they are quick on their feet."

After collecting the data, the researchers found those who scored highest on the mental speed tests were also labeled as charismatic by their friends. "Although we expected mental speed to predict charisma, we thought that it would be less important than IQ," von Hippel said. "Instead, we found that how smart people were was less important than how quick they were. So knowing the right answer to a tough question appears to be less important than being able to consider a large number of social responses in a brief window of time."

These answers led the researchers to suggest that mental speed allows people to make up for the wrong reactions or, in other instances, gives them the ability to inject humor wherever appropriate. Mental speed, however, did not have any effect on participants’ social skills when it came to handling conflict or figuring out how other people felt.

“It remains a question for future research exactly how mental speed facilitates charismatic behavior, but access to a wider repertoire of social responses within an appropriate response window would seem to be a likely candidate,” the researchers concluded.

Source: von Hippel W, et al. Quick Thinkers Are Smooth Talkers: Mental Speed Facilitates Charisma. Psychological Science. 2015.