Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

No eyebrows = you’re less recognizable

Posted in news by jenapincott on September 15, 2009

sadr__ibrau__perception_2003 Evolution has done to our profiles what glaciers do to mountains. Gone is the jutting jaw. Washed away is the bulging brow ridge. Our faces are relatively flat compared to what they once were. This means there’s not much to look at to get your bearings. According to a study by Javid Sadr and his colleagues at MIT, eyebrows are a crucial part of facial identification. The behavioral neuroscientists discovered that faces without eyebrows are like land without landmarks.

The study: Volunteers were asked to identify fifty famous faces, including that of former U.S. president Richard Nixon and actor Winona Ryder. The photos were digitally altered and shown either without eyebrows or without eyes. When celebrities lacked eyes, subjects could recognize them nearly 60 percent of the time. However, when celebrities lacked eyebrows, subjects recognized them only 46 percent of time.

The lesson: eyebrows are crucial to your identity — they’re at least as important as your eyes, if not more so. If you put colored contacts in your eyes, pumped collagen into your lips, or put on a pair of funky sunglasses, people would probably still recognize you easily. But try shaving off your eyebrows. Chances are that everyone will say they didn’t recognize you at first glance.

As Sadr points out, eyebrows pop out against the backdrop of your face — and for that reason not only identify who you are but how you’re feeling. Along with the lips, they may in fact be the most expressive part of your body. The single raised eyebrow is a universal sign of skepticism, and the dual raised eyebrow a sign of surprise. Think about it — entire Charlie Chaplin movies are spoken in the language of brows.

The shape of your eyebrows also says, in a glance, a lot about your age and other characteristics. Bushy, gnarly, salt-and-pepper brows: old, powerful men. Thin, graceful arcs: young, stylish women. Sparse, light brows: childlike. When waxed and tweezed, the brow is a sign of good grooming.

Eyebrows sometimes meet each other halfway across the bridge of the nose, especially on men, to form a “monobrow,” which resembles the vanished browridge of our primate ancestors. Distinctive? Yes, and also brow-raising.

33 Responses

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  1. […] Eyebrows are the key to who you are — when celebrities lacked eyes, subjects could recognize them nearly 60 percent of the time — […]

    • Nancey said, on September 16, 2009 at 6:26 pm

      I agree they are the key to who you are. I’m a para-medical tattoo artist. I create eyebrows for people everyday in a hairstroke method to simulate real hair. They are beautiful.

  2. Kendall said, on September 16, 2009 at 5:35 pm


  3. howbigspill said, on September 16, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    So if I really want to mess with people I should radically change the look of my eyebrows? I’ll have to give that a try!

  4. Cloud said, on September 16, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    This could have interesting implications in criminology.

  5. Mike said, on September 16, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    always used the term unibrow not monobrow

  6. Norepinephrine said, on September 16, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Great entry!I knew some experiments like this and it’s amazing the way that our perception can be fooled with a little change.

  7. Abraham Davis said, on September 17, 2009 at 1:24 am

    This is actually the same reason that cops (or people with similar positions of authority) often wear hats with brims that go low over the face. It’s to cover the eyebrows, which makes them appear less personable and more in control.

    • jenapincott said, on September 17, 2009 at 2:22 am

      Interesting, thanks!

  8. localdrivinglessons said, on September 17, 2009 at 3:18 am

    Eyebrows enhance the beauty of your eyes, GOD makes human beautiful and perfect.

  9. sravan953 said, on September 17, 2009 at 4:10 am

    Interesting study.

    In my opinion, just as in the article, eye brows are as important as the eyes are. To men, they add vigor and stature, while to women, they add beauty and tenderness…

  10. Amit Mishra said, on September 17, 2009 at 5:18 am

    Awesome !!

  11. Lucia said, on September 17, 2009 at 5:31 am

    They have just develope a technic for eyebrows transplant with your own hair (from the neck area) for people who want to look more expressive or lost eyebrows by shaving them too much during youth, I think it’s amazing (and expensive btw!)

  12. Indostats said, on September 17, 2009 at 5:40 am

    how about nose 🙂

  13. sufuri said, on September 17, 2009 at 6:04 am

    Does this apply across the sexes and ages?

  14. good one said, on September 17, 2009 at 7:46 am

    cool ,i knew it

    well i knew it before 6 years

  15. sittingpugs said, on September 17, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Oh wow…that is amazing. Eyebrow-less Richard Nixon looks like Jon Voigt.
    Eyebrow-less Winona Ryder looks like Kate Moss.

  16. samsul said, on September 17, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Wow..I never thought about that before. Eyebrows are indeed the easier part to alter, instead of plastic surgery

  17. DarcusTori said, on September 17, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    How true this article is, makes me think of the one of the most famous eyebrows on the 1980’s. None other than those of Brooke Shields. What a fabulous set of eyebrows.

  18. neurotype said, on September 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Interesting. I wonder if this also relates to the fact that eyebrows outline the shape of the brow.

    On the other hand, eye removal isn’t possible, but brow removal is. Could the innate ability of the human mind to fill in missing details have compensated for the missing eye pictures?

  19. Niko said, on September 17, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Nice! 🙂

  20. June Eng said, on September 19, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Interesting, especially since NYT covered a recent trend in shaving eyebrows (Where Have All the Eyebrows Gone? William Van Meter, 7/15/09). Wonder if this has any significance:

  21. Daniela said, on September 20, 2009 at 12:50 am

    As if I didn’t already feel bad enough about myself, here comes this revolutionary piece. I’ve struggled with trichotillomania for 33 years and have no eyebrows (or lashes). Everything I feel about myself has been validated.

    • Nancey said, on September 20, 2009 at 8:44 am

      Hi Daniela, Please don’t feel bad about yourself, there is help! I help people with this everyday. I’m an advanced para-medical tattoo artist, I can tattoo eyebrows in tiny little hairstrokes using different colors of ink that simulate real hair, I can also help with the eyelash problem. I would love to speak with you. Nothing about yourself has been validated from one article. Go to my website and send me an email or call me. Just know there is help!

  22. bokai said, on September 20, 2009 at 3:40 am

    This explains why I looked like a completely different person the first time someone plucked my eyebrows. I hated the feeling and let them grow back. It was like looking at a stranger in the mirror.

  23. pangfoon said, on September 28, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Hey, you have a great blog here! I’m definitely going to bookmark you! Thank you for your info.

  24. Fiyola Hoosen said, on October 4, 2009 at 2:22 am

    The ladies at the waxing salon always compliment my sister on her eyebrows. They say its perfect, flawless and beautiful.

    What is it exactly that would make eyebrows perfect and what are imperfect eyebrows?

  25. Thomas Budd said, on October 13, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Hi, gr8 post thanks for posting. Information is useful!

  26. last longer in bed said, on October 15, 2009 at 7:37 am

    This post is really fantastic. Looking for the next beautiful post.

  27. dalena johnson said, on November 3, 2009 at 1:57 am

    lot’ of good topics i really enjoyed reading this blog keep up the good work….

  28. Shamila said, on July 15, 2010 at 3:57 pm


    I have been plagued by facial hair for so long and have tried creams, electrolysis which left a black marks on my skin, waxing etc until I found this amazing little tool called Epicare. It is just a lil spring with handles on either side. I love, love, love it. It is so affordable compared to laser where there is still no guarantee that facial hair will be totally gone. For gals who are used to threading this is the perfect D.I.Y. tool. Got mine at I have been using mine for 8 months now.


  29. Jack The Last Longer In Bed Guy said, on January 7, 2011 at 8:11 am

    I can’t believe how much of a difference eyebrows makes. I always thought it was eyes that was the key thing but obviously not!

  30. learnhowtolastlongerinbed said, on February 12, 2011 at 6:02 am

    It’s is amazing how much different people look without eyebrows.

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