We’ve all noticed that smart people often seem to wear glasses – Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Tina Fey, to name a few. But is there actually a connection?
It’s easy to assume that clever people might wear glasses because they spend more time reading, which may put a strain on eyesight, but in fact, according to a new study published in Nature Communications, there’s actually a genetic connection between being brainy and wearing specs.
An international team of scientists, led by the University of Edinburgh, set out to investigate the interaction between genes and cognitive function. They looked at both genetic and cognitive information from over 300,480 people to see whether there was an overlap between genes associated with being smart and genes related to health.
They analyzed 148 genomic regions connected to improved cognitive function, including 58 that were identified for the first time by the researchers.
The team found genetic correlations between general cognitive function and a range of health issues. Notably, they discovered a link between intelligence and short-sightedness, as well as the need to wear glasses or contact lenses. Weirdly, they found a negative correlation between intelligence and long-sightedness.
In addition, they found negative correlations between cognitive function and heart problems like heart attack and angina, lung cancer, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis. They also found that those with better cognitive function might also be less likely to suffer from depression.
However, it’s important to note that these are simply correlations, so having better cognitive function doesn't definitely mean you have a lower risk of heart disease, for example. But the fact that there is a link is very interesting. Exactly why these links exist is still unclear.
The fact that the study focused on genetic overlap is also of note because it suggests an inherent biological connection between being smart and various other factors. Intelligence is often linked to better health because clever people are generally better educated and have better jobs, so are more likely to have money to spend on a healthy diet and health care. While this is obviously a factor, finding these genetic correlations adds to the nature argument of the nature vs nurture debate.
"This study, the largest genetic study of cognitive function, has identified many genetic differences that contribute to the heritability of thinking skills,” study leader Dr Gail Davis, from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Epidemiology, told The Telegraph.
"The discovery of shared genetic effects on health outcomes and brain structure provides a foundation for exploring the mechanisms by which these differences influence thinking skills throughout a lifetime."
So next time someone calls you four eyes, just tell them that your specs mean you’re more intelligent. Science says so.