Are mouth-breathers really dumb?
September 1, 2009 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Is there scientific evidence that "mouth-breathers" have lower intelligence, and/or are really perceived as being less intelligent?

Being a "mouth-breather" is a derogatory term on the web, but I can't find any actual evidence that people really link mouth-breathing with perceived (or actual) lower intelligence.
posted by nyc_consultant to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It is not a litteral term. It means someone who stands around with their mouth agape.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:54 AM on September 1, 2009

And you can hear them. (Breathing)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 8:04 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's been proposed that Neanderthals, because of their large sinus cavities, would have been more suceptible to conjestion in non-Ice Age weather, which would in fact lead to mouth-breathing, but that's really beside the point of the "mouth-breather" colloquialism. Personally, I'd be more likely to draw the historical link between ability to breathe through the nose and good grooming (good health?), then from good grooming to riches and education.
posted by aimedwander at 8:11 AM on September 1, 2009

From wikipedia:
Mouth breathing in public is sometimes considered to be less socially acceptable or attractive than nose breathing, as mouth breathers can appear to have a somewhat "slack jawed" look, and mouth breathing can cause or exacerbate bad breath.
Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel on The Simpsons isn't slack-jawed because it's a medical issue -- it's because it's a shorthand description of someone who appears unintelligent.
posted by mikeh at 8:12 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to have constant bad allergies that clogged up my sinuses and I had to breathe through my mouth.

Since then, the allergies have cleared up, and I can breathe through my nose.

I have not seen a corresponding increase in intelligence. :(
posted by baxter_ilion at 8:12 AM on September 1, 2009 [19 favorites]

"Adenoidal" is a scientific term used to describe the cause or symptom of mouth-breathing (but it's my impression it's become kind of unfashionable or even discredited, now).
posted by Rash at 8:27 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's a social and cultural thing. I suspect "mouth-breathers" are simply less self aware than their "more sophisticated" brethren. It's similar to people who speak poorly, or pick their nose in public, without thinking about it.

Probably a learned behavior, or more precisely, a behavior that was not discouraged by the parents, who may themselves not be aware of the social stigma associated with it.
posted by Xoebe at 9:28 AM on September 1, 2009

the theory i heard a while ago was that it was a classist thing, since folks who worked in mines and factories and such often had chronic sinusitis. and poor == dumb.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:34 AM on September 1, 2009

In yoga terms, congested sinuses can be an indication of deeper, spiritual blockages to be resolved via spiritual practices. Strangely, meditators often find that their sinuses clear up.

So this is often indirect, I know, but it may be that the underlying issues causing mouth breathing may in turn reflect a dim lack of clarity of some sort.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:35 AM on September 1, 2009

Not all mouth-breathers are dumb, and not all dumb people are mouth-breathers.

When I use the term, I'm referring to the sort of person that'd stand there, mouth agape, pondering the meaning of the Pull sign as they push bodily against the door that's not budging.
posted by Rendus at 9:46 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

jimmyjimjim: funny, I would just think the measured constant breathing done as part of meditation probably helps clear up congested sinuses.
posted by jrishel at 9:59 AM on September 1, 2009

Due to birth defects, I can only breathe through my mouth.

I've probably been perceived as weird or shy or antisocial, but I'm pretty sure I've never been perceived as dumb. Anyway, not that this is necessarily an indicator of intelligence, but I do have a Master's degree.
posted by desjardins at 10:30 AM on September 1, 2009

Just a thought - often people with sleep apnea breathe with their mouth while they sleep - hence the earth-shaking snoring. Sleep apnea causes daytime drowsiness and brain fogginess. (Of this I am guilty.)
posted by desjardins at 10:33 AM on September 1, 2009

Best answer: In boxing, one sign that you've hurt your opponent, or that he is winded, is when he begins mouth breathing. Moreover, an opponent who does not have good defensive skills and relies on his attack too much, may have often paid the price previously with several broken noses, and have permanently obstructed nasal passages as a result. Finally, in boxing, mouth breathing is dangerous, because it is easier to lose your mouthpiece when your jaw is open to facilitate breathing, and you also stand a much greater chance of having your jaw broken and/or sustaining dental injury (bite tongue, chip teeth, bite cheek) if you're clipped (punched hard in the jaw) while your mouth is open.

So, for the reasons cited above, a mouth breathing pugilist is not viewed as an intelligent fighter, by many trainers and opponents.
posted by paulsc at 11:38 AM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

jrishel, good speculation, but many styles of meditation don't aim to measure the breath at all...just restrict it. That's the one I do, and it's been amazingly effective for me as well as others re: sinuses. And I grew up in a house with a box of tissues in every room.

Science doesn't seem to know much about what the sinuses are for, or why they act up as they do. Yogis consider the sinuses an important nexus for the letting go of spiritual practice. The third eye is located right smack dab there, for one thing.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 11:40 AM on September 1, 2009

This happened to be on ABC Sydney local radio last night.

This concept was mentioned as a larger discussion of breathing problems.

The theory was

[1] Mouth breather = undeveloped nasal pasages (although it wasn't explained if mouth breathing was the cause or an effect of undeveloped nasal passages)

[2] Undeveloped nasal passages = greater chance of sleep apnea

[3] Sleep apnea = starving brain cells of oxygen

[4] Starving brain cells of oxygen for short amounts of time but thousands of occurances over a lifetime = loss of brain cells

[5] Enough loss of brain cells = greater chance of dementia

Not saying I agree with it, but that was the link they made.
posted by trialex at 6:41 PM on September 2, 2009

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