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Even kids don’t make passes at kids wearing glasses

Monday, September 24, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

Dorothy Parker was ahead of her time. And I still recall the Marilyn Monroe movie where she bumped into things rather than wearing glasses since “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”.

While one might argue that times have changed and glasses are now “in”–recent research on the stereotypes of glasses-wearing criminal defendants and glasses-wearing civil defendants would beg to differ. In those studies, criminal defendants wearing glasses were seen as “less likely to be violent” despite their actual behavior. And civil defendants wearing glasses were seen as more likely shady and sneaky–they were not to be trusted. It was as though observers saw them as too smart and therefore as likely to be duplicitous!

There is also recent research saying glasses make you less attractive. So it may not surprise you to hear that we learn about the negative aspects of eyeglasses as children. And (even as children) we prefer to be friends with those who do not wear glasses.

BPS Digest recently highlighted this literature review (looking at studies since 1980) and since we’ve written about stereotypes of eyeglass-wearers frequently, we thought we’d point this one out as well. Here’s part of how BPS Digest described the article:

“Although the results showed glasses were far less salient to children than other identifying features, such as gender, their views on glasses-wearers were largely negative. For example, asked to compare pairs of children, one of whom was always wearing glasses, 5- to 9-year-olds consistently rated the child without glasses as prettier and better looking. Another study found that children were less interested in being friends with glasses-wearing peers.

The one positive caveat was that many children associate the wearing of glasses with superior intelligence. For example, asked to draw a smart person or a scientist, children tend to depict their creations as wearing glasses (but they don’t do so when asked to draw a stupid, nice or nasty person).”

These findings are eerily similar to what we see in the research on perceptions of the eyeglass wearer in adults. Children ages five to nine have the same stereotypes we see in adults. People who wear glasses are smart, but evidently ‘uncool’. And we’re guessing that if kids were asked who was most likely to be violent–a criminal with glasses or a criminal without glasses–they would likely choose the non-bespectacled thug–just as criminal defense attorneys espousing the “nerd defense” think adult jurors will.

In our minds, this is a terrific reminder of how early biases form and how they (often) remain consistent throughout our lives. It’s easier to be less judging of biased adults when we consider parents and society teach children how to view others–and those views often carry through to adulthood. Bias is pervasive and often invisible.

The key to shifting those views is to make your eyeglass wearing client “like” those adult jurors rather than having assumptions about “who” their weak eyes make them rule the day. That’s really a key to minimizing bias in general.

FC Jellesma (2012). Do glasses change children’s perceptions? Effects of eyeglasses on peer- and self-perception. European Journal of Developmental Psychology DOI: 10.1080/17405629.2012.700199