These findings may help comfort children as they're fitted for their first pair of glasses, lead author Jeffrey Walline, an assistant professor of optometry at Ohio State University, suggested in a prepared statement.
"If the impression of looking smarter will appeal to a child, I would use that information and tell the child it is based on research. Most kids getting glasses for the first time are sensitive about how they're going to look. Some kids simply refuse to wear glasses, because they think they'll look ugly," Walline said.
The study included 42 girls and 38 boys, aged 6 to 10. Of those, 30 wore glasses, 34 had at least one sibling with glasses, and almost two-thirds had at least one parent who wore glasses. The study participants were shown 24 pairs of pictures of children. The children in each pair of pictures differed by gender and ethnicity, and each pair of pictures included one child with glasses and one child without glasses.
The children were asked a series of questions about each pair of photos. About two-thirds said children wearing glasses looked smarter than those without glasses, and 57 percent said children wearing glasses looked more honest.
The results suggest the media portrayals that associate glasses with intelligence may be reinforcing a stereotype that even young children accept, Walline said.
The children's answers to other questions about who they'd rather play with, who looked better at sports, who looked more shy, and who was better looking weren't consistent enough for the researchers to derive any solid conclusions.
What was clear was that the children didn't automatically consider kids with glasses to be unattractive.
"The concern about attractiveness with glasses seems to be more internal to a particular child rather than an indicator of how they'll feel about other people who wear glasses," Walline said.
The study was published in the May issue of Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology has more about eyeglasses for children and infants.