A role for eyebrows in regulating the visibility of eye gaze direction



Watt R, Craven B & Quinn S (2007) A role for eyebrows in regulating the visibility of eye gaze direction. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60 (9), pp. 1169-1177.

The human eye is unique amongst those of primates in having white sclera against which the dark iris is clearly visible. This high-contrast structure makes the gaze direction of a human potentially easily perceptible to others. For a social creature such as a human, the ability to perceive the direction of another’s gaze may be very useful, since gaze usually signals attention. We report data showing that the accuracy of gaze deviation detection is independent of viewing distance up to a certain critical distance, beyond which it collapses. This is, of itself, surprising since most visual tasks are performed better at closer viewing distances. Our data also show that the critical distance, but not accuracy, is affected by the position of the eyebrows so that lowering the eyebrows reduces the critical distance. These findings show that mechanisms exist by which humans could expand or restrict the availability of their gaze direction to others. A way to regulate the availability of the gaze-direction signal could be an advantage. We show that an interpretation of eyebrow function in these terms provides a novel explanation for several well-known eyebrow actions, including the eyebrow flash.

; Eyebrows; Gaze; Facial expression

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: Volume 60, Issue 9

Publication date30/09/2007
Publication date online06/08/2007
PublisherTaylor & Francis (Psychology Press)

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Professor Roger Watt

Professor Roger Watt

Emeritus Professor, Psychology