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Revenge of the nerds: Link between glasses and intelligence confirmed

By Shannan Rouss ; Updated May 31, 2018

Turns out having 20/20 vision may not be something to brag about after all: A new study finds that intelligent people are 28 percent more likely to wear glasses or contact lenses and 32 percent more likely to be myopic or nearsighted (as in, you can see things right in front of you, but not at a distance — a condition caused by a combination of genetics and environment).

So how did researchers make the connection between specs and smarts? After analyzing genetic data and cognitive test results from more than 300,000 participants ranging in age from 16 to 102, they discovered a “significant genetic overlap” between general cognitive function (things like memory, language, reasoning and spatial skills) and health-related traits, including poor eyesight, hypertension, lung cancer and longevity.

While being nearsighted was positively associated with intelligence, being farsighted? Not so much. Participants who scored high on cognition tests were 21 percent less likely to struggle with closeup vision problems (aka farsightedness). They were also less likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer, hypertension and depression and more likely to live longer. Not a bad deal.

The study, conducted at University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE), is the largest of its kind to date. “Less than a decade ago, we were searching for genes related to intelligence with about 3,000 participants, and we found almost nothing,” said Ian Deary, director CCACE, The Independent reported.

Deary continued, “Now, with 100 times that number of participants and with more than 200 scientists working together, we have discovered almost 150 genetic regions that are related to how clever people are.”

As significant as the latest study is, everyone agrees that more research is still needed. The authors pointed out that their work doesn’t prove that intelligence and traits like nearsightedness, longevity or hypertension are “causally related.”

Put another way: “What exactly are these genes ‘doing,’ and how does that lead to shortsightedness on the one hand and high general cognitive function on the other?” said University of Sussex postdoctoral research fellow Maxine Sherman (who wasn’t involved in the study) in Newsweek.

Of course, this isn’t the first time nearsightedness (or shortsightedness, if you’re on the other side of the pond) has been associate with intelligence. According to a 2017 article in the journal Scientific Reports, a connection between higher IQ and myopia was first reported way back in 1883, and numerous studies have since confirmed the correlation. “The relationship appears consistent in children and adults, across a range of IQ tests, and is independent of years of education completed,” wrote the authors of the article.

While a genetic link looks promising, we’ll all just have to wait and see to know for certain. Wouldn’t want to be shortsighted about things.

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