Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Eyes are windows to the soul -- and evolution

Date:
March 20, 2014
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
Why do we become saucer-eyed from fear and squint from disgust? These near-opposite facial expressions are rooted in emotional responses that exploit how our eyes gather and focus light to detect an unknown threat, according to a new study.

Fear. Why do we become saucer-eyed from fear and squint from disgust?
Credit: Image courtesy of Cornell University

Why do we become saucer-eyed from fear and squint from disgust? These near-opposite facial expressions are rooted in emotional responses that exploit how our eyes gather and focus light to detect an unknown threat, according to a study by a Cornell University neuroscientist.

Our eyes widen in fear, boosting sensitivity and expanding our field of vision to locate surrounding danger. When repulsed, our eyes narrow, blocking light to sharpen focus and pinpoint the source of our disgust.

The findings by Adam Anderson, professor of human development in Cornell's College of Human Ecology, suggest that human facial expressions arose from universal, adaptive reactions to environmental stimuli and not originally as social communication signals, lending support to Charles Darwin's 19th century theories on the evolution of emotion.

"These opposing functions of eye widening and narrowing, which mirror that of pupil dilation and constriction, might be the primitive origins for the expressive capacity of the face," said Anderson. "And these actions are not likely restricted to disgust and fear, as we know that these movements play a large part in how perhaps all expressions differ, including surprise, anger and even happiness."

Anderson and his co-authors described these ideas in the paper, "Optical Origins of Opposing Facial Expression Actions," published in the March 2014 issue of Psychological Science.

Looks of disgust result in the greatest visual acuity -- less light and better focus; fearful expressions induce maximum sensitivity -- more light and a broader visual field. "These emotions trigger facial expressions that are very far apart structurally, one with eyes wide open and the other with eyes pinched," said Anderson, the paper's senior author. "The reason for that is to allow the eye to harness the properties of light that are most useful in these situations."

What's more, emotions filter our reality, shaping what we see before light ever reaches the inner eye.

"We tend to think of perception as something that happens after an image is received by the brain, but in fact emotions influence vision at the very earliest moments of visual encoding."

Anderson's Affect and Cognition Laboratory is now studying how these contrasting eye movements may account for how facial expressions have developed to support nonverbal communication across cultures.

"We are seeking to understand how these expressions have come to communicate emotions to others," he said. "We know that the eyes can be a powerful basis for reading what people are thinking and feeling, and we might have a partial answer to why that is."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. The original article was written by Melissa Osgood. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. H. Lee, R. Mirza, J. G. Flanagan, A. K. Anderson. Optical Origins of Opposing Facial Expression Actions. Psychological Science, 2014; 25 (3): 745 DOI: 10.1177/0956797613514451

Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Eyes are windows to the soul -- and evolution." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140320100607.htm>.
Cornell University. (2014, March 20). Eyes are windows to the soul -- and evolution. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140320100607.htm
Cornell University. "Eyes are windows to the soul -- and evolution." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140320100607.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) New research says if you condition yourself to eat healthy foods, eventually you'll crave them instead of junk food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins