How To Look Smart, Ctd

by Patrick Appel

I've been asking why we associate eyeglasses with intelligence. A reader adds a wrinkle to the debate:

Glad you've highlighted this issue, and I agree with your reader that there is something to the correlation between near-sightedness and IQ, and the review of vision development was quite helpful. However, a second and primary variable s/he does not address, which I believe is fundamental to the illusion of this correlation, namely the very nature of IQ itself.

Similar to the hot controversy surrounding The Bell Curve in the 90s, these questions tend to overlook the way IQ tests are designed. As a neuropsychologist who has administered hundreds of these measures, I can tell you that their structures reflect a deeply embedded bias toward intelligence as a function of reading skills (as well as white middle-class backgrounds), both directly and indirectly.

If I had a dime for every kid I've had in my office who could read a blue streak, but could not make eye contact or could not empathize with others or who could not let go of obsessions or could not grasp simple numbers (while still calculating the syntax of algebra to beat the band), I could retire easily. Conversely, I have had students in my office at a much much lower rate (maybe one per five hundred) who were sharp as tacks, personable and comfortable in their social worlds, inventive and clever, but simply had trouble reading quickly. This profile is not well represented in the general population, but Sally Shawitz (pre-eminent researcher on dyslexia at Yale) has noted anecdotally that those who have such profound trouble learning to read - and translating basic symbols like letters (augmented by interference from the right brain during reading) - are consistently well-adjusted and balanced individuals.

Trust me; though myopia does correlate highly with measured IQ as we refer to it, it decidedly does not correlate with real intelligence. The failure is not in our vision - or lack thereof - but in our measures. There is a slow but steady effort to make changes in the tests, but the key is the pace. Meanwhile, we limp along, dragging these poor kids into increasingly misguided notions of their capabilities and of themselves.