Have you read “War and Peace?” Me neither. However, if we are at a party and the question comes up in a conversation, statistics say I am more likely to pretend to you that I have in fact read it than I am to just stay quiet while the rest of the group discusses this great Russian novel. Why will I lie? Well, because at least one survey says I think I will appear smarter than I am.
According to an article in The Atlantic (No, really, I do read The Atlantic) when subjects were posed with the situation above and offered the option of remaining quiet, walking away from the group or pretending to have read a classic book, 62 percent admitted they have pretended to have read the book in question.
The survey was commissioned by someone in the publicity department of the television show “The Big Bang Theory” (For those of you who don’t watch, the characters on the show are nerdy geniuses) to learn how people try to look more intelligent. Lying about having read great books was one of the most common ways people try to appear brainier than perhaps they really are.
Respondents also considered people who wear glasses to look smart. (We don’t need to be geniuses to have seen that coming, do we?) What wasn’t so expected, at least to me, was that people consider those who walk at the same pace as they do smarter than those who walk faster or slower. It wasn’t explained why this is so, and I’m not smart enough to figure it out.
The survey also revealed that when you sign your name and use your middle initial, people not only assume you are smarter but believe you are of higher social status than someone who does not. Hmm, maybe I should talk to the editor of the paper about adding an L — my middle initial — to my name above the column I write. Speaking of writing, writers whose text was printed in hard-to-read fonts were judged less intelligent than those who use a clear, uncomplicated typeface.
Wearing glasses has little to do with intelligence, of course. Most people understand this is a myth when they give it some thought. As I checked around, I discovered other myths about the brain and intelligence. To be honest, I was a little disappointed to find out there is little evidence some of them are true.
For example, I am addicted to crossword puzzles. I work them partly because it is an enjoyable way to pass my time, partly because I love thinking about words in a different way, and partly because I have always believed that doing word puzzles and other “brain games” makes a person smarter. Alas, the evidence is just not there that such games have anything to do with raising intelligence. Yes, word games might contribute to a better vocabulary but that doesn’t translate into more smarts.
Another assumption about intelligence that I wish were true but isn’t has to do with babies and music. For many years people have claimed playing classical music to babies makes them smarter. Not so said the research. Well, I accept the science, I guess. Still, I can’t give up the belief that such music must have some sort of good effect on infants.
I found several other ideas for looking smarter than you are. Here are a few: Rent movies of famous books; read the dust jackets of famous books; read the Classic Comics version of famous books; add a bunch of letters to the end of your name (Norman L. Knight, BA, MS, WWF, OMG, ASAP); speak with a British accent.
It is said great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about other people. And now we know people who want to look smart should speak with a British accent, wear glasses, write their middle initials, and talk about books they haven’t read.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.