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.

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