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What Wearing Eyeglasses Means for Your Social Image

March 28, 2019

They’re the difference between Clark Kent and Superman. The difference between the “girl next door” and her instantaneous transformation into screen siren. (At least as the common trope would have it.) They can even be the difference between an acquittal and a guilty verdict.

“They” are eyeglasses, and how they impact others’ perception of us — as well as our sense of self — is the subject of fascinating psychological research.

Eyeglasses are more than just a vision-aid or fashion accessory. Researchers and industry insiders say they’re a way to alter personal image in ways that have significant social consequences.

For example, in 2012, an eyeglass-donning defendant’s guilty verdict was challenged by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals following a “change-of-appearance” instruction forbidding him to wear the eyeglasses during trial.  (The eyeglasses weren’t needed for vision correction but were used merely to manipulate the defendant’s image — a tactic that is becoming increasingly common in criminal court.)

The basis of the appeal rested on the considerable research demonstrating that those who wear eyeglasses are perceived as more honest and less likely to commit a crime, thus biasing the jury against defendants without spectacles.

Not only are people who wear eyeglasses perceived as more honest and trustworthy, but also as more intelligent, dedicated, and reliable. In fact, a 2013 study found that job applicants who wore eyeglasses to their interview were significantly more likely to be hired than those who didn’t.

“The connection between glasses and intellectualism is unconscious and metaphoric,” says Cary Cooper, professor of occupational psychology at Lancaster University. Cooper says that wearing eyeglasses suggests studiousness and intellectual aptitude, traits that tend to correlate with a propensity for conscientiousness and other “conservative” personality characteristics.

The power of a pair of spectacles isn’t lost on the average person. A 2011 study by the US Vision Council found that nearly 16 million Americans wore non-prescription glasses for the express purpose of altering their social image. The correlation between eyeglasses and the perception of intelligence is deeply ingrained and studies have shown that even children as young as eight are aware of this, and this awareness only grows with age. A London study showed that the older children got (all the way up to college), the more likely they were to depict a scientist as someone who wears glasses.

Eyeglasses are big business, with couture houses like Dior, Valentino, Gucci, and others having their own eyewear lines. Ralph Anderl, chief executive of eyewear company IC Berlin, says that an eyewear company’s success is built on the recognition that when people try on different eyeglass frames that they’re actually trying on different personalities and playing with how they perceive themselves and want others to perceive them. Anderl says that the company’s designers capitalize on this phenomenon and create frames that cater to distinct personality types so that consumers can literally “curate” different images for themselves.  

As for the personality characteristics that different frames suggest, the dark, chunky-rimmed eyeglasses that have been de rigueur for the last few seasons tend to evoke a sense of personal strength, fierce independence, status quo-defying artistry and social nonconformity. Perhaps for this reason, this frame was ubiquitous at the highly politicized, #MeToo-fueled 2017 Academy Awards as worn by Oprah Winfrey, Gary Oldman, Christina Hendricks, Lupita Nyong’o, Jordan Peele, and many other outspoken celebrities.  

If you’re looking for the perfect eyewear to highlight your favorite personality traits or even for contact lenses or permanent vision correction to suit an active lifestyle, OCLI is here for you. As New Jersey’s friendliest and most comprehensive vision health provider, we have a solution for all your eyecare needs. Give us a call today! We’d love to hear from you!   

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