How to look smart?

by on August 15, 2014 at 1:27 pm in Games, Philosophy | Permalink

Perhaps these results are speculative all around, but I am happy to report them for your consideration:

Another strategy identified by the survey, wearing glasses, appears to be surprisingly effective. Figures released in 2011 by the College of Optometrists, in the U.K., show that 43 percent of the people it surveyed believe glasses make a person look more intelligent.

But you may not need glasses if you’re beautiful. A Czech study found that certain facial features—narrow faces, long noses, and thin chins—correlated with both perceived intelligence and attractiveness. Interestingly, men who were considered smart-looking actually tended to have higher IQs; the same was not true for women.

Other ways to signal intelligence without opening your mouth include walking at the same pace as those around you. Subjects in one study rated a person moving faster or slower than “normal human walking speed” as less competent and intelligent. Speaking of incompetence: don’t drink in public, at least not at work functions. 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.

How you write matters, too—particularly how you write your name. Middle initials apparently lend a person a certain cachet. 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. Typing your initial in the Comic Sans font, though, could ruin the whole thing: a Princeton researcher found that a hard-to-read font made an author seem dumber, while a clean, simple typeface (Times New Roman, in the study) made him or her seem more intelligent.

The same researcher also looked at how using big words (a classic strategy for impressing others) affects perceived intelligence. Counterintuitively, grandiose vocabulary diminished participants’ impressions of authors’ cerebral capacity. Put another way: simpler writing seems smarter.

The full link is here, with footnotes and sourcing, hat tip goes to Catherine Rampell.

1 bjartur August 15, 2014 at 2:15 pm

people who talk and write about “signaling” frequently are often perceived as being highly intelligent

2 J August 15, 2014 at 2:28 pm

lol, don’t forget about Schelling Points, mood affiliation, and “updating my priors.”

3 Zephyrus August 15, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Isn’t it true that if you substitute simple words for fancy words, you look smarter?

fronting -> signaling
“unspoken norms” -> “Schelling Points”
bias -> “mood affiliation”
“changing my mind” -> “updating my priors”

4 J August 15, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Oh I’m not disagreeing with him, I meant that as more of an e-high five plus shameless tacking on of his joke.

5 Yancey David! Ward August 15, 2014 at 5:19 pm

You gotta throw the “Bayesian” in there, too.

6 Jeff R. August 15, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Yes, it’s almost like talking about signalling is a form of signalling in itself. But maybe so is talking about talking about signalling…

7 msgkings August 15, 2014 at 3:58 pm

If you believe the evo psych crowd, EVERYTHING is signalling

8 dirk August 15, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Under what circumstances would someone want to appear smart?

9 charlie August 15, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Here’s one, losing a presidential primary for appearing dumb: Rick Perry now wears thick-framed glasses.

10 msgkings August 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm

I don’t subscribe to the bashing of George W Bush as unintelligent, he is plenty smart, especially compared to the average American.

But Rick Perry didn’t just appear dumb, that guy is a plain old idiot. I guess he’s smart enough to try wearing glasses to cover it up.

11 bellisaurius August 15, 2014 at 4:53 pm

I heard rick perry on the commonwealth club recently; he may not have been completely dumb, and I give him credit that he had the balls to go out of his comfort zone and talk about energy policy and such, but with every answer I just kept thinking he just wasn’t quite bright enough.

Poor guy. And he has such presidential hair, too.

12 A Guy. Not Gay August 22, 2014 at 1:14 am

This was a common argument against Palin too. “Justtrustmeshesdumb” But who turned the White House into the Harvard faculty lounge? Who moved the office of the president of the United States of America onto the back-9?

13 A Guy. Not Gay August 22, 2014 at 1:19 am

How the fuck can you keep this shit up after all these years of failure? I’m guessing Russian oil money.

14 nobody August 15, 2014 at 4:50 pm

It works for H1B’s in the IT sector. Mumbling behind thick-rimmed glasses goes a long way when you have no idea what you’re doing (and your bosses aren’t tech literate)

15 JC August 15, 2014 at 2:36 pm

One has to be amazed by the kind of studies out there :).

16 Andrew M August 15, 2014 at 2:42 pm

The article is rather thin on content. Glasses make you look smarter, but nothing is said about beard / stubble / clean shaven; short / long hair; posture; use of arm & hand gestures; not to mention clothing.

For people with very short hair (shaved but not bald), I deduct at least 10 IQ points from my estimation.

17 Jason W. August 15, 2014 at 3:24 pm

There was a study making the rounds a few months ago about facial hair, but it was about attractiveness, not intelligence. Although apparently attractive people are viewed as more intelligent, so perhaps it was about perceived intelligence after all. One takeaway from the facial hair study:

“Across all groups, the volunteers rated beards and light or heavy stubble as more attractive than clean-shaven faces, and heavy stubble was rated more attractive than full beards.”

Summary of the study here:

18 Locke August 17, 2014 at 5:51 am

Some of us shave because we’re getting close to bald. That’s smarter than fighting the inevitable. Give me my 10 points back.

19 David Wright August 15, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Comic Sans is not “hard to read”. It doesn’t convey gravity and you wouldn’t want to read a novel printed in it. But it’s perfectly legible and gives a halfway decent impression of good blackboard writing, or, obviously, comic book lettering, if that’s what you’re looking to achieve. Yes, I am aware that you can signal being a typography snob by reviling it.

20 Doug August 15, 2014 at 4:29 pm

It’s not just about signaling being a typography nerd. There’s a certain minimum threshold of taste across any domain, that if one drops below, indicates corrupt moral character. Let’s say you procure a heart surgeon to perform a complex and potentially dangerous procedure. The man is in his mid-40s, tall, classically handsome, firm handshake, respected by his colleagues, and speaks with confidence and clarity in a baritone voice. In all dimensions he would inspire confidence. Now what if you learned that surgeon, in his free time, is a diehard juggalo?

For most people that’d be enough to dismiss him nearly immediately. Does his taste in music have anything directly to do with his skill as a surgeon? No, not at all. But the mere indication of extremely bad taste in a single, isolated domain, is enough to warrant being judged harshly across all other aspects. And it’s a threshold effect: knowing a surgeon listened to King Crimson over U2 would barely budge my professional estimation of him. But once you dip below that threshold of bad taste, (with music it lives somewhere around Nickelback) it spills over into everything else in your life.

What I’m saying is that Comic Sans is the Insane Clown Posse of the typography world.

21 msgkings August 15, 2014 at 4:53 pm

This is a great comment but the point you are making gets kind of murky when you consider that no one’s ‘tastes’ are truly that independent…no juggalos really look and act and work like that guy. Tastes intersect, and diehard juggalos don’t talk and act in that confidence-inspiring way.

And if there are exceptions, if said juggalo is really that kind of person in all other areas including surgical skill…I don’t think I’d dismiss him for his awful taste in music.

If you asked me to pick blindly between 2 surgeons based on music taste, then sure maybe his ICP love disqualifies him.

In the real world, you don’t have to make that choice.

22 Peldrigal August 16, 2014 at 1:40 pm

The fact that tastes are usually not that independent, i.e. correlated, is exactly the reason why judging someone by perceived “bad taste” is actually a sound decision: you can infer by one visible unacceptable detail that there are probably more that you haven’t had the occasion to observe.
At least, that’s my interpretation of Doug’s line of reasoning.

23 Anon. August 15, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Did you seriously just imply that U2 are somehow superior to King Crimson?

24 Doug August 15, 2014 at 6:42 pm

No, meant quite the opposite. Bad phrasing.

25 Mark Thorson August 15, 2014 at 7:28 pm

A true typography nerd knows Courier Prime.

Unlikely this would be useful for impressing the rabble you’re likely to meet, though.

26 DK August 16, 2014 at 9:34 am

Oh god, enough with the stupid Courier variations. It’s just ugly no matter how you slice it. There are plenty of good monospaced fonts today. Andale Mono, Consolas, Source Code – why would anyone use the pretend-typewriter font when these are available?

27 Mark Thorson August 16, 2014 at 10:14 am

It’s the traditional font used in screenwriting, which has a fairly standardized format. Small variations in the format can be acceptable, but not changing the font. Partly this is due to fear that your script won’t be read if it’s too far away from the standard format, and partly because the length of scripts is judged by page count. If you use a denser format, readers can’t judge how long the movie is going to be.

28 DK August 16, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Understandable. But really weird that screen readers apparently aren’t aware of word and character count.

29 Mark Thorson August 16, 2014 at 8:21 pm

They use paper. And when they use files, it’s PDF files.

30 dearieme August 15, 2014 at 2:55 pm

One of my schoolteachers said that he preferred people with small, clever piggy eyes to those with large, stupid bovine eyes.

31 HL August 15, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Listening to esoteric music like vaporwave or Lewis’s L’amour is also a good way to signal your superior intelligence non verbally.

32 Rich Berger August 15, 2014 at 3:00 pm

What about a sharp crease in your trousers?

33 Yancey David! Ward August 15, 2014 at 5:20 pm


34 andrew' August 15, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Throck Morton left

35 D August 15, 2014 at 3:09 pm

“But you may not need glasses if you’re beautiful… men who were considered smart-looking actually tended to have higher IQs ”

Hmmm. They’re equating smart looking – “narrow faces, long noses, and thin chins” – with “beautiful”. Is that just assumed or have these smart features been shown to correlate with rated beauty/attractiveness?

36 M August 17, 2014 at 4:17 pm

There was an experiment where

Participants selected smarter and dumber looking men;

The smarter looking men actually were more intelligent on average, they also had a different average face shape;

The actual “smart looking” face shape, however, wasn’t associated with intelligence;

So it seems that the smart looking men group were a mix of genuinely smart and just pretty / gentle / low testosterone looking, but somehow people were identifying the smart, even with them holding a neutral expression, etc.. There is such a thing as being “genuinely smart looking” it’s just not having a long, thin face.

37 Blake W Jensen August 15, 2014 at 3:46 pm


38 Brian Donohue August 15, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Looking forward to part 3.

The Monocle: Smart and Cool!

39 msgkings August 15, 2014 at 4:36 pm


40 Mark Thorson August 15, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Doesn’t work without the saber duelling scar.

41 dan in philly August 15, 2014 at 4:47 pm

I tend to judge by how one carries oneself. There is a certain self awareness intelligent people have which hints at their abilities.

42 Nikki August 15, 2014 at 5:15 pm

The problem with drinking beer may be the beer rather than the drinking. Try holding a Cognac.

43 Yancey Ward August 15, 2014 at 5:40 pm

From the bottle?

44 HL August 15, 2014 at 9:36 pm

yes davis aurini is classy

45 Pierre August 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm

In France drinking Cognac signals that you don’t come from money.
Armagnac is the real deal.

46 The Devil's Dictionary August 15, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Simpler writing seems smarter. Try to read Keynes and try to read Hayek.

47 Meegs August 15, 2014 at 5:38 pm

It can work in reverse.

Scotty Brooks wearing glasses looks like a dude trying to look smart, which makes him look even dumber than normal.

48 Dismalist August 15, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Finally, an explanation for my moderate success in life: I wear glasses and have an almost narrow face and long nose. I walk at mean speed [go with the flow?]. I sometimes use my middle initial. And I don’t walk around with glasses of beer in my hand; I walk around with glasses of wine in my hand! If only I had know this in my youth, I could have saved myself a lot of effort.

49 Andrew M August 16, 2014 at 4:17 am

Check the underlying study: a glass of red wine makes you look stupid too, unfortunately. Though the researchers didn’t test wine vs. beer in their study.

50 randomworker August 15, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Rick Perry obviously read the report. And believed it!

51 derek August 15, 2014 at 10:40 pm

The smartest people I’ve met don’t look smart, in fact the opposite. The ones who look smart usually steal the silverware.

Trying to look smart usually means that they want something or are striving. The smart people I’ve met usually have the problem of too many demands on their time, so they structure how they go about things to qualify anyone who approaches them. An idiot put off by looks isn’t worth wasting time with.

52 Rimfax August 15, 2014 at 11:53 pm

I can’t help but wonder if US west coast culture doesn’t skew wildly from these results. In Seattle, for example, the more intelligent have the luxury to drink beer at the office and to dress extremely casually. Formality, like with using a middle initial, is seen as something of an attempt to compensate for a lack of intelligence.

53 spandrell August 16, 2014 at 5:34 am

Claiming to read 42 books every evening while listening to Ethiopian and Azerbaijani music on alternate days. Also cheap street food in countries with bad hygiene.

54 Moreno Klaus August 17, 2014 at 5:46 pm

You just made me laugh really hard 🙂

55 chuck martel August 16, 2014 at 8:42 am

It seems that at one time wearing glasses was a negative in personal appearance that outweighed any hint of intelligence, which may still be the case for many women. While myopia isn’t as much of a societal drawback as it once was, wearing a hearing aid is perceived as very unflattering. Maybe the now universal use of sunglasses has changed the dynamic on the vision side but ear plugs don’t seem to have had the same effect with hearing aids. People accept poor vision in themselves and others but are more uncomfortable with visible hearing aids.

56 Steve C. August 16, 2014 at 10:09 am

Not a complete negative. More of a mixed bag. Children can be, are, cruel. Four eyes! Pointdexter! Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses. OTH, if you spoke well, if you carried yourself well, the default presumption was you were “smart”. The name calling faded as you grew up and if your deeds backed up your words you could be accepted as someone who contributed to problem solving.

Glasses were not a fashion item until the 70s. A trip to the optometrist in the 60s was “Which pair of black or brown horn rimmed glasses do you wart?” The rebels might opt for tortoise shell. Wire rimmed glasses were the glasses our grandfathers wore. Girls had it worse. Those ugly frames with small lenses and “points”. If you’ve ever seen a high school yearbook from 1966, you know what I mean.

Since we live in the age of irony, I find it humorous that the style of frame issued in basic training, aka BCG (birth control glasses) is now “cool”.

I await the return of: Nehru jackets, Apache scarfs, ascots, ivory cigarette
holders, earth shoes, suspenders, and leisure suits.

57 Thomas August 16, 2014 at 12:23 pm

If only my current glasses were as robust as my boot camp BCGs – I couldn’t break those things if I tried (and I did).

58 Alvin August 17, 2014 at 2:20 am

Question. I usually wear Docker type pants and a polo-style short sleeved shirt to work. Unlike everyone else, I never tuck my shirt into my pants – it looks funny in my opinion. The only time I tuck my shirt in is if I’m wearing a button-up long-sleeve shirt or suit – which is pretty rare at my job.

Do you think leaving your shirt out (not tucked in your pants) makes you look less intelligent?

59 Axa August 18, 2014 at 7:28 am

It all depends on the shoulder-waist ratio. Attractive and fit people can get away with odd fashion decisions, the rest look funny but not charming at all.

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