The Science of Looking (Though Not Necessarily Being) Smart

A surprising amount of studies have tried to pinpoint the particular physical traits, styles, and characteristics that exude the essence of intelligence... even if those characteristics don't necessarily indicate of the existence of intelligence.

The Science of Looking (Though Not Necessarily Being) Smart

Julie Beck has an interesting little feature up on Atlantic detailing certain studies that attempt to pinpoint what exactly goes into looking intelligent. Unsurprisingly, some particular physical traits, styles, and characteristics have been found to communicate the essence of intelligence -- even if they're not necessarily indicative of the existence of intelligence. 


Your mind might immediately steer toward eyeglasses, a practically universal emblem of nerdom. As Beck notes, a 2011 British College of Optometrists survey found that 43% of respondents thought wearing glasses made people appear more intelligent (though of course, there are exceptions).

Other findings shared by Beck include the connection between drinking in public and appearing unintelligent: 

The perceived association between alcohol and stupid behavior is so strong, according to a 2013 study, that merely holding a beer makes you appear dumber.

As well as the power of the punctuating middle initial:

Participants in a study published this year rated writing samples more favorably when the author’s name included a middle initial; they also presumed people with middle initials to be of higher social status than their uninitialed peers.

(As one of the article's comments points out, the middle initial definitely seemed to work for Bill S. Preston, Esq.)

All joking aside, is there really anything to take away from these investigations into looking smart? A lot of the findings are fairly common sense. Yes, we associate eyeglasses with intelligence. No, you shouldn't compose your résumé in Wingdings. But these sorts of studies aren't designed to break new ground as much as they seek to confirm societal biases for and against certain characteristics. In that sense, they're quite successful. The maps of human preference and dislike are always changing and occasionally need to be redrawn to reflect shifting societal landscapes.

Give Beck's article (linked again below) a quick read. It's well sourced so, if you're interested, you can go on and learn more about the individual studies. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go find out how to change my byline to Robert X. Montenegro.

Read more at The Atlantic

Photo credit: Ollyy / Shutterstock

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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