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Science

Need glasses? It may really mean you’re smarter than average, major study finds

People who are more intelligent are almost 30 per cent more likely to have genes indicating a need to wear glasses

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 9:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 7:19pm

If you need to wear glasses, some good news: you may well be smarter than the average person.

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications has found that needing to wear glasses is associated with higher levels of intelligence.

In the study, the largest of its kind ever conducted, researchers from the University of Edinburgh analysed cognitive and genetic data from over 300,000 people aged between 16 and 102 that had been gathered by the UK Biobank and the Charge and Cogent consortia. Their analysis found “significant genetic overlap between general cognitive function, reaction time, and many health variables including eyesight, hypertension, and longevity”. Specifically, people who were more intelligent were almost 30 per cent more likely to have genes which might indicate they’d need to wear glasses.

While being more intelligent may be linked to poor eyesight, it’s also connected with a lot of positive health benefits. Researchers found negative correlations between cognitive function and a number of health problems, including angina, lung cancer and depression.

It’s important to remember that these are all simply correlations not conclusive links. And it’s worth noting that what constitutes intelligence is subjective and can be difficult, if not impossible, to measure.

There is already plenty of empirical evidence that wearing glasses, whether you need them or not, makes people think you are more intelligent.

A number of studies have found people who wear glasses are perceived as smarter, more dependable, industrious and honest. As lawyer Harvey Slovis explained to New York magazine: “Glasses soften their appearance so that they don’t look capable of committing a crime. I’ve tried cases where there’s been a tremendous amount of evidence, but my client wore glasses and got acquitted. The glasses create a kind of unspoken nerd defence.”

It’s not just defence lawyers who use glasses as a stage prop. Glasses are regularly used as shorthand in pop culture to connote that their wearer is intelligent. In the case of women, there’s also a well-worn “ugly girl who removes her glasses and is revealed to be beautiful” trope.

Isaac Asimov critiqued this in his essay The Cult of Ignorance. In the essay, which went viral when it was tweeted by an appreciative reader last year, Asimov writes: “The glasses are not literally glasses. They are merely a symbol, a symbol of intelligence. The audience is taught two things; (a) Evidence of extensive intelligence is a social hindrance and causes unhappiness; (b) Formal education is unnecessary, can be minimised at will and the resulting limited intellectual development leads to happiness.”

Prescription-less glasses have become something of a fashion accessory, worn by people who want to look sophisticated or cool. Not everyone is impressed though – GQ called wearing fake glasses “bottom-of-the-barrel hipster behaviour”.