WackySpeculativeTheoryFilter: When I'm wearing my glasses, my thinking becomes more rigid, systematic and well, nerdy. Or am I just crazy?
March 13, 2012 8:31 AM   Subscribe

WackySpeculativeTheoryFilter: When I'm wearing my glasses, my thinking becomes more rigid, systematic and well, nerdy. Or am I just crazy?

When I put on my glasses, I feel more like a poindexter than when I have them off, but it doesn't seem like this is because I am concentrating on the I'm-Wearing-My-Glasses-Self-Image so much as maybe wearing something on my face just changes the way I'm processing the world or using my brain.

I have one more weird data point: I read some things on psychology a while back regarding eye movements and created a fun party game called "make up a story without moving your eyes" that you can play. You basically stare straight ahead at another person and then try to make up a story out loud for them. Without the eye movement, your story is just terrible. It's like the worse story ever, but it's so bad that it's funny.

My weird theory: Is it possible that the restricted areas of eye movement presented by glasses (or having something on your face) also restricts the places your thoughts or emotions are willing to go?

This is a completely speculative question, and so I'm prepared for completely speculative answers. Do you experience this weird glasses phenomenon or do you have any ideas as to what might be going on?
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night to Science & Nature (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I put on my glasses, the front of my face feels heavy, sort of like when your sinuses are congested. I think that feeling makes my thinking less free. It makes me feel old and out of touch. Moreover, there's something about having the frames circumscribing what you see in focus that also imposes boundaries on how I think about things, IMHO. Both effects seem to wear off after awhile. Interesting question.
posted by carmicha at 8:52 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's more likely you're experiencing something similar to stereotype threat. Putting on glasses reminds you of the rigid, systematic, and nerdy version of yourself. It's not something you notice with your conscious mind, any more than girls checking off "Female" on a math test are consciously thinking "Math is hard! Let's go shopping!" -- but it still affects your thinking and performance.

Additional anecdata: I've been wearing glasses since kindergarten, but spent a number of years in contact lenses. All of my best math was done during my contact-wearing years. I never noticed any differences in ability before and after putting in my contacts, and I don't remember suddenly getting smarter or nerdier or less creative when I stopped wearing contacts. (I stopped wearing them because of a combination of corneal abrasion and a job requiring long hours and lots of travel that made them impractical.)
posted by pie ninja at 8:55 AM on March 13, 2012

Just a clarification to pie ninja and others if it comes up:

I don't notice any "advanced abilities" when I put my glasses on, I just feel as though my thinking patterns are more "rigid" and less open-ended.

It's not a matter of performing better when I put them on, like Popeye and spinach, though I have to admit, that would be fantastic.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 9:02 AM on March 13, 2012

I have a strong prescription and always wear contacts. I always say that I "feel out of it" when I have to wear glasses instead. I typically blame it on the lack of peripheral vision. Perhaps that forward focus, and lack of awareness of one's surrounding could contribute to a sort of "rigid" and "focused" feeling with a bit of oblivious to the outside wold (as well as a bit of clumsiness) which could be associated with nerdiness. I also feel less inclined to play sports, get in a fight, or enter into any steamy situations (literally and figuratively) as well, so that isn't helping the cause either.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 9:02 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

They did a study in the UK a few years ago (too lazy to find the cite, sorry) for a BBC documentary that showed pretty conclusively that people who had a hot drink in their hands were more likely to be friendly to people they just met than people with a cold drink in their hands.

I don't see why glasses vs. contacts couldn't have similar "powers" for people.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:29 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

To add to the anecdata, I wear a pretty strong prescription, mostly contacts but glasses at night before I go to bed, and I feel as though I can hear better when I'm wearing glasses/contacts than when I am not.

Brains are spooky things.
posted by blurker at 9:32 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 9:36 AM on March 13, 2012

yeah, i vote for psychosomatic. when i got glasses in my mid-20s I became worse at both skateboarding and pool. even with mere astigmatism, the glasses gave me just enough spatial distortion (barely fish-eye'ish) to change my perception of my body's physical relationship to the outside world, throwing off my judgements when doing a skateboard trick or aiming my pool cue. the properties of corrective lenses are compensatory, but imperfectly so, and since eyes are basically an extension of the brain, it comes as no surprise that changes in eyesight affect perception.
posted by rhizome at 10:04 AM on March 13, 2012

I split my contacts/glasses wearing 50/50 and I notice no difference in terms of my thinking. But then I'm naturally very creative so perhaps I've just too much creativity to get stifled.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:07 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a generic explanation tailored to fit your anecdotal data, but to me it sounds like pretty basic behavioral psychology principles are in play.

1. We assume the fact that people who wear glasses look nerdy.
2. When you look nerdy, people treat you like you are nerdy. This will be a distribution of responses but let’s say that this is the case with significant force to cause 3.
3. When people treat you like you’re nerdy, they will reinforce nerdy statements and behaviors, and withhold reinforcement from non-nerdy statements and behaviors.
4. We also assume that when you do not wear the glasses, people treat you as non-nerdy.
5. In this instance, you will fall under the Stimulus Control ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stimulus_control ) with the glasses acting as the discriminative stimulus.

Now, you are also conducting a lot of meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). I have not learned anything about meta-cognition, but I am assured by my professors that it does not change the basic facts of how this process works.
posted by rebent at 10:23 AM on March 13, 2012

When do you wear your glasses? Is it when you tired or not feeling well?
posted by teragram at 10:41 AM on March 13, 2012

I wear my glasses almost all the time with the exception of sleep, working out and doing stuff where they would get wet, foggy, or fall off. In the rare instances where I'm not wearing them, I feel free-er. Even if I'm indoors and alone not being perceived by anyone but myself and not looking in the mirror.

Another speculative theory (which vaguely goes along with what This_Will_Be_Good said) is that maybe my glasses function like some sort of Thundershirt, but for my face, instead of an unruly dog.

The natural experiment would be of course, to put glasses on a dog. Ok, not really. That would prove nothing. Doesn't mean I'm not gonna go do it.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 10:49 AM on March 13, 2012

I feel exactly the opposite, but that's because I can't see very well without my glasses and I find that confusing and distracting. Maybe you should think about getting contacts if you like the feeling of not having glasses on!
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:44 PM on March 13, 2012

This only answers one tangent in the thread, but the feeling of being able to hear better with glasses on is due to your ability to subliminally lipread while processing the actual audio information of someone talking, and the resultant synergy is naturally more understandable than either constituent alone
posted by MangyCarface at 2:33 PM on March 13, 2012

Well, I am down to tenatively back up your wacky speculative theory! For support, I will play my Aldous Huxley card! To wit, there is sensing and there is perceiving; muscular restriction on sensing such caused by focusing with the lenses could indeed cause a correlating restriction or shaping of perceiving ... at least in wacky speculative theory land!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 4:03 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not alone! :D
posted by blurker at 4:52 PM on March 13, 2012

Before I had Lasik, I felt like my glasses put a barrier between me and the world. There was a feeling of separateness and an increase of introversion.

I felt more free and uninhibited without my glasses. Of course, I couldn't see anything or anybody, but I felt like they couldn't see me either. For instance, being nude in the steamroom was more comfortable for me when I was invisible.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 5:21 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Totally a conditioned response. As a lifelong glasses-wearer with tremendously terrible eyesight, when I take my glasses off, I get sleepy. Because I only take them off before bed, you see.

This created problems when I switched to contacts. It took at least a week before I lost the "no glasses = sleepy" connection.

In other words, it's not that you feel smarter with them on. It's that your brain is conditioned to think that if they are off, it's lazy sloppy fun time, sleepy time, or workout time. In other words, your brain kinda slips into neutral.

This association is why many freelancers and telecommuters continue to change into work clothes when it's time to work. Slacks and a clean shirt tell your brain it's "worky time."

A lot of people find that they simply cannot get any work done if they wear sweats, even though they are at home and it theoretically shouldn't matter. It's because wearing sweats is, in their minds, inextricably connected to lazing around on a weekend morning.
posted by ErikaB at 7:07 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the rare instances where I'm not wearing them, I feel free-er.

Of course you do, you're a little bit more naked.
posted by desuetude at 9:28 PM on March 14, 2012

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