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home | Feature Articles | The Eyebrows

The Eyebrows
Tonya Reiman
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In a world where over 50% of communication is done non-verbally, it is important to understand what certain gestures mean. Almost every part of our bodies can be used to communicate, be it the way one looks into another's eyes or the way one crosses their legs. The human face is arguably, though, the most expressive part of one's body. The eyes alone can reveal numerous emotions, like anger, fear and sadness; however, the importance of one part of the face that is sometimes overlooked is the eyebrows. How do people use the eyebrows to communicate non-verbally? What roles do the eyebrows play? What messages can be sent through eyebrow gestures? You will be surprised. The eyebrows are sort of a funny thing on our bodies. Why would anyone have two (or for some, one!) patches of hair over the eyes? According to Sadr, Jarudi and Sinha, the eyebrows may be remnants of our evolutionary ancestors (2003). Our primate ancestors had hair all over their faces and, slowly, the amount of hair on the face was reduced. Being that the eyebrows survived our evolutionary history, they must be around for a purpose. The eyebrows do afford humans a certain degree of protection; for instance, they are useful in shielding our eyes from sweat and rain (Sadr, Sinha and Jarudi, 2003). However, the eyebrows arguably play a far more important role in communication and the revelation of emotions. Furthermore, studies have shown that the eyebrows play a key role in facial recognition. Today, cleanly trimmed eyebrows have come to be associated with beauty. Many women tweeze or wax their eyebrows and even men have gotten into the habit of trimming their unwanted brow hair. Perhaps unknown to most is that eyebrows have been associated with beauty for centuries; however, what has been considered beautiful has shifted throughout history. In the 18th century, women in Western Europe believed that full, bushy eyebrows were beautiful. Full eyebrows were so necessary to beauty that upper-class women went so far as to attach mouse hide to their foreheads to give the illusion of bigger brows. Today, thinner brows with high arches are the most desired. While the eyebrows have a role in beauty, they have a much bigger role in communication. Research has shown that a person's face is the best indicator to their emotions. More specifically, the eyebrows can depict a number a different moods and emotions; they can communicate the extremes of aggression and fear and, through combinations of facial movements, can truly express the entire range of human emotions. For example, in Western society, raising ones eyebrows up and down is a signal for the acceptance of social contact. Oscillating eyebrows have also come to be associated with the recognition of people known to us and can be used as a sort of greeting. Raised eyebrows often depict surprise and astonishment, often accompanied with a widened eye. However, raised eyebrows can also be a gesture that indicates indignation or uncertainty; oftentimes we raise our eyebrows to show confusion and beg a question. Differently, lowered eyebrows generally symbolize deception, or a desire to conceal one's eyes. Lowering the eyebrows can also be associated with annoyance and is sometimes used to depict displeasure. It is truly amazing that so much can be said with something as inconspicuous as the eyebrows. Another important role the eyebrows play is helping in facial recognition. Little research has been conducted in this area, but of the research done, the results are telling. The eyebrows play an inherently important role in face recognition, as well as aiding in discriminating between male and female faces. Researchers found that eyebrows aided in facial recognition because they are a constant feature; they remain a stable facial feature. Since they are high-contrast and relatively large facial features, they can survive substantial image degradations . In addition researchers discovered that eyebrows aid in facial recognition because they are an informative characteristic that has great diversity across different faces . Eyebrows aid in sex differentiation largely due to the thickness of the brows and their separation. For instance, thin, separated eyebrows and a bony ridge can serve as a quick identifier of juveniles, females and fine-featured males, whereas thick, full eyebrows that stretch across the ridge generally identify strong males, with an appearance reminiscent of our evolutionary ancestors. It is amazing that one can identify people and their sex based solely on the eyebrows. The human body is an amazing machine. Our bodies protect us, allow us to move and help us in communication. While the human face may be the most expressive part of our bodies, specific aspects of the face can be particularly effective in the revelation of emotions. One such aspect is the eyebrows. The eyebrows can evoke the extremes of anger, sadness and fear, but can also beg a question and depict astonishment. The eyebrows can also help in facial recognition and sex differentiation. For being such a small part of the body, the eyebrows and the gestures they make speak loudly.

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