Evolution played a part in the expression of emotions through our eyes. A new study gives insight into why our eyes are the windows to the soul.
We can tell a lot about what a person is feeling by looking at the expression in their eyes. That may sound like a cliché, but it's true. We take our environment in through our eyes, and we also express our reaction to our environment through our eyes.
The way our eye expressions change and react to the emotions we feel doesn't just happen. Our eye expressions evolved to help us adapt to the situations happening around us.
We can express emotions like fear, disgust, suspicion, and awe through our eyes. For example, when we feel disgust or suspicion, we narrow our eyes. When you don't have perfect vision and you've forgotten your glasses at home, how do you cope? You narrow your eyes to make a certain object out. Narrowing our eyes helps us sharpen our visual focus.
When we feel fear or awe, meanwhile, we open our eyes wider. Think back on all the horror movies you've ever seen. Protagonists always survey the scary situations they're in with wide eyes. We, the audience, interpret that eye expression as fear, even when we don't actually see what it is that's causing the protagonist to feel fear.
Widened eyes expand our field of vision, while narrowed eyes sharpen it. We can interpret the correlation between emotion, eye expression, and the situation the individual is in. Feeling disgust or suspicion may make it necessary for us to study the object of our emotion closer. This would require sharper vision.
Meanwhile, when we're scared, being more aware of our environment will work to our benefit. Thus, a wider field of vision will enable us to see more of our immediate environment.
These findings support Charles Darwin's theory on how emotions evolved. He theorized that the origins of our expressions are for sensory function and not primarily for social communication. Of course, since we understand what emotions these expressions convey, there's a social dimension there as well. Thus, our eyes are the windows to our souls indeed, but they're also windows to how we evolved to adapt to certain situations.
The study also found that people consistently interpreted certain eye expressions as indicators of certain emotions. For example, participants in the study were consistent in associating narrow eyes with disgust and suspicion. They also consistently associated wide eyes with fear or awe.
"The eyes evolved over 500 million years ago for the purposes of sight but now are essential for interpersonal insight," says Adam Anderson, one of the researchers.
This is why our eyes are the windows to the soul. Through our eyes, people can see and interpret what we're feeling and how we're reacting to the situation we're in. It gives us and other people insight into how we feel about things and events in our immediate environments.
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