Glasses and nerds go together like break-up texts and emojis. For some, this is an endearing trait; for others, it creates a weird desire to want to punch someone in the face.
Many people instinctually associate higher intelligence with glasses. It’s not just an antiquated stereotype — study after study shows we’re all susceptible to some decent rims. That’s despite the fact that specs make us appear less attractive. Throwing a pair on, whether you need to or not, helps you to succeed in job interviews.
Why is that? Having eyesight problems is a clinical deficiency, so why would we equate that with brains? Historically, glasses were always associated with being bookish. “Someone must be nearsighted because they read a lot,” the thinking would go. “They are educated.”
While looking nerdy is in vogue right now, there’s no reason for us to still think of glasses-wearing folk as being smarter than the Average Joe. Yet we still make this association! Why?
It might have to do with the fact that glasses — like any garment or fashion accessory — hides physical features that are otherwise plainly visible. “Glasses cover not just the eyes themselves,” Neil Handley, the curator of the British Optical Association Museum at the College of Optometrists, told Pacific Standard. They also cover “the surrounding tissues, the cheekbones, the frown lines…These are all indicators of what you mean and are trying to say.”
In other words, glasses shroud some of the more naked facial features that reveal the nuanced signs of a person’s personality and affect. It’s a distraction that makes it harder to scrutinize someone. Our default reaction to that knowledge gap is to assume the best of others. And that might actually be reasonable.
A study published last year and presented at the 2012 American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting suggested that myopia — a.k.a. nearsightedness — was associated with higher levels of education. The researchers, from the University Medical Center in Germany, studied 4,600 myopia-afflicted Germans between the ages of 35 and 74. About 53 percent of their sample size had graduated from college, compared with 24 percent that had no post-high school education.
The reasons why are unclear, but speculation harkens back to a previous stereotype: Nearsighted people are probably able to take part in less outdoors activities, and therefore probably stay inside and tend to dig into books and learning materials. Of course, this is just one study, studying people in one country, and using educational degrees as a measure of intelligence. Frankly, it’s subpar science — and it would be a huge mistake to cite it as proof spectacled-people are smarter. After all, you don’t need a prescription to get glasses.
Not that that will make much of a difference. People will still have a knee-jerk reaction to think of people with glasses as smarter, even if it’s totally irrational to think so. Let’s just enjoy the popularity of four-eye’d geekiness while it lasts.