Participants in the study's multiple experiments preferred politicians with glasses over those without, and, if the participant had liberal leanings, they were even more likely to opt for the bespectacled candidate.
Such findings might shock current politicians. Even though 61 percent of the U.S. population wears glasses, no president since Harry Truman, who held the title from 1945 -1953, has regularly donned a pair. (George H.W. Bush wore glasses on occasion, but not as consistently as Truman, whose specs are featured in his entry in the National Portrait Gallery.)
"Politicians think it doesn't help them," adds Fleischmann.
They may also still be scarred from Rick Perry's mocking at the hands of then fellow presidential-candidate Donald Trump, who suggested Perry added the glasses to his look to fool people into thinking he was smart.
But the only time the study found glasses didn't help secure a favorable impression was when participants learned that the country the politician belonged to was threatened by war. In the face of an armed conflict, people selected glasses and non-glasses wearing leaders equally.
It may seem stereotypical to associate glasses with intelligence and aptitude, but that's exactly what gives these bespectacled candidates their edge.
Since the Middle Ages, Western society has internalized so many images of people performing highly-skilled or intellectually-demanding tasks while bespectacled that we now imbue glasses wearers with these same characteristics, regardless of how deserved they may be, according to the study. The glasses do the hard work, making others read us as smart, dependable, capable, industrious and successful. All qualities many of us say we want in our policy-makers and leaders.
Of course, such assumptions work best on a first-impression basis or when we have very limited information about a person. Glasses won't maintain the illusion of high intelligence or competence if our behavior or work betrays us as lacking in those areas.
In all the experiments the researchers performed, participants were shown only images of politicians, some in glasses, some without, and asked to say how likely they were to vote for that candidate. They were not informed of the person's history, experience, policy positions or other details voters would presumably want to know before casting a ballot.
This key difference is why we should be cautious about assuming glasses could make all the difference in a candidate's successful election bid, says Olga Shurchkov, associate professor of economics at Wellesley College, who has studied how appearance can impact people's success.
"Because all the experiments are so well controlled and the participants had no other information, only the image, any characteristic associated with appearance, such as glasses, then becomes more much important to the decision-making process," says Shurchkov. "In the real world, people would know other information about a candidate, and so glasses may not be as important a factor as it was in a study like this."
In one of the experiments participants were given a little more information. They were told the political party, Republican or Democrat, of each candidate photo they viewed. While people opted most often for a candidate of their same party, they were less likely to do so when the opposing party's candidate was wearing glasses, the study found.
Meaning, whether Democrat or Republican, glasses can help politicians increase the odds a member of the opposite party will support them and their success in cross-party elections.