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

Malcolm Gladwell live | How to re-examine everything you know

Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Humans evolved for punching, study confirms

University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.

Image source: durantelallera/Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
  • The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
  • If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Keep reading Show less

To be a great innovator, learn to embrace and thrive in uncertainty

Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.

David McNew/Getty Images
Personal Growth
Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was America's first female self-made millionaire.
Keep reading Show less

Study: Private prisons result in more inmates, longer sentences

The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • After adopting strict sentencing laws in the '80s and '90s, many states have turned to for-profit prisons to handle growing prison populations.
  • A new study in Labour Economics found that privately-run prisons correlate with a rise in incarceration rates and sentence lengths.
  • While evidence is mixed, private prisons do not appear to improve recidivism or cost less than state-run facilities.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Videos

    The art of asking the right questions

    What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast