Admit it: if you see someone using glasses you think this person has a good chance of having an above-average IQ.
As a former assistant Bronx attorney and author of the legal article “See You: How Defendants Have Used Nerd Defense to Influence Jurors’ Perceptions,” Sarah Mariucci told me that glasses are “associated with reading, significant amounts of reading in childhood, a nerdy persona, a smart persona.”
This fact made me jealous of people who wear glasses. I just had an eye exam and, as with all previous eye exams, I found that I have perfect eyesight.
But should I be concerned? Does needing glasses mean you’re smarter? And where did our stereotypes – good and bad – about glasses come from? Turns out, the history of glasses is much more complicated than I imagined.
While eyeglasses were probably invented in the early 1300s, they didn’t proliferate until the 18th century when people started making eyeglasses with temples so you could walk around without them falling off.
Glasses weren’t fashionable at first, let alone remotely cool.
Neil Handley, curator of the British Optical Association Museum, told me to look at people in early paintings wearing glasses. “They are loan sharks. They are miserly, they are government officials – people we would like to be ignored, but they don’t,” he says.
miserly? loan sharks? According to Handley, this prejudice against glasses — which was often just a thinly veiled anti-Semitism — was so pervasive that people who needed glasses simply didn’t wear them.
But it wasn’t just ordinary people who were concerned about how they looked if they wore glasses. It was a highly calculated decision for high-profile politicians as well.
Handley mentioned that Adolf Hitler was a notorious example of someone who wore glasses but refused to be photographed in them. He wasn’t the only world leader who avoided being seen in his lens. In fact, in their official portraits of the White House only three presidents are painted wearing glasses: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman.
When did our perceptions of eyewear start to shift to a cooler geek vibe? It was only in the last few decades, and Handley, to my chagrin, said it might have been because of Harry Potter .
Of course, defense attorneys have known for years that glasses can make someone look smarter. They’ve been trying to use “nerd defense” for a long time. There was the case of convicted murderer, Jodi Arias, accused of putting on glasses for the jury. If she was doing it to look less guilty, the strategy didn’t work.
That didn’t stop others from trying. Mariucci pointed out that when a defendant is accused of “a violent crime and you’re wearing glasses, you’re less intimidating to the jury.” Defense attorneys are trying to get the jury to think “look at how sweet, smart, nerdy, and peaceful the defendants look.”
All of this is trying to get at a juror’s “subconscious thought process” that people with glasses are too smart to commit a violent crime.
And it turns out that societal stereotypes may have a basis in fact. I spoke to Michelle Luciano, a behavioral geneticist and professor at the University of Edinburgh at Scotland .
She worked on a 2018 study involving more than 300,000 people that set out to examine the human genome in its entirety and see if there is some sort of genetic marker linked to greater cognitive function.
The study found that there was some relationship between myopia, or shortsightedness, and intelligence, but there are many other things going on as well. For nerds, there was a +0.32 correlation between the two variables.
Of course, remember the phrase “correlation does not imply causation”. The need to wear glasses may be linked to intelligence, but that doesn’t mean poor eyesight is causing intelligence to rise.
Source: CNN Brasil