Scientific Portal on Body Language, Kinesics and Nonverbal Communication#

Language of Eyes

As far as I remember, I couldn’t watch a single horror film, from beginning to end. After growing up, I began to hate and express loathing towards disgusting faces and scenes that dominate most of the horror movies/serials. Now, I can exercise my choice to walk away from television screen, switch it off or simply hop to next satellite channel whenever a horror movie/serial is broadcasted or played by somebody. My eyes, ears and brain are free from getting horrified, expressing loath and feeling disgust ed. Total relief from mental torture!

However, it wasn’t so easy in childhood days when all others in my family wanted to watch horror movie/serial and I needed to keep myself away from horrific or disgusting scenes. Having just a single large television set kept in a hall, I had no other choice but to stay put in presence of my family members watching and listening to horror. Whenever any horror movie/serial was being broadcasted, I used to put cotton balls in my ears and try to look away from television set. As I clearly remember, I used to bury my eyes in books kept nearby

Blocking Eyes? Scared?
Just by keeping my eyeballs away from television, I used to avoid extremely anxiety and stress which might have caused by watching the horrifying and disgusting scenes. My eyes were giving away my honest yet fearful intentions to defend myself from psychological distress. Although my senior family members used to call me “Coward”, I never feel bothered about it at all. At least, I never had any characters from any horror movie/serial in my dreams since I didn’t watch them at first place. Smart strategy it was then and it is now - Simply avoid looking at what might invite stress.

From expressing different emotions and feelings to signaling attention and orientation, our eyes unconsciously give away various kinds of and very important clues to outside world. To put simply - Eyes do or can reveal much more than what a person says, doesn’t say at all and tries to prove or disprove. From the very first moment of your entry into this world to the last moment you’ve interacted with anybody or even looked your own face into a mirror, eyes have mattered way too much into your life. Didn't they? Through movements of muscles that surround eye sockets, even blind people convey their emotions e. g. frowning in anger.

Eye of Horus (Egyptian God)
After all, why our eyes really are so communicating? In the world of creatures, human eye is considered as one of the most marvelous organs or body parts if its structural complexity and functionality is considered. Also, unlike most of other organs, eyes are directly connected with brain to an area called which is called as Visual Cortex. Additionally, eyes are the only sensory organs that start developing in womb quite earlier, right from 4th week after conception. Right after face, eyes are considered the most important element in every facet of human interaction, so much so that merely images and emblems of eyes can trigger array of emotions and feelings.

Before development of ability to speak or the very facial muscles that help in expressing emotions, our remote ancestors and all other creatures had to depend on their eyes for communication along with other movable body parts. They had to use eyes, area surrounding them and other parts of face to send different clues to members of their groups as efficiently and timely as they could. Through millions of years of development and adaptation (evolution), human eyes became capable of doing so many things than just seeing things e. g. expressing respect or supremacy, signaling interest or aversion, giving away lust or rivalry, seducing or derogating etc.

Different types of eye contacts with different intentions
Like computerized eye-trackers, most of us choose to pick and encode signals given away by eye balls and pupils only. In Neuro-linguistic programming techniques, “eye-ball response assessment” or decoding cognitive states by detecting movements of eye balls is most popular. These readings might be accurate but they are highly controversial in main-stream scientific community. After all, eyes don’t just give away cognitive but range of clues which we’re going to see next. I’m quite sure that most of them are first time you might be reading about.

From eyes to brain
While reading or decoding language of eyes, we have to consider different areas or sections like sclera (white part of eye ball), iris (darker part of eye ball), pupils (darker spot in center), ocular muscles (muscles that surround eye balls), eye lids and eyebrows. Even in some cases, position of neck is also need to be considered. Before going to clues, we must know what different kinds of clues are or can be given away by eyes. Clues can be broadly categorized as A) Physical B) Social C) Psychological D) Cognitive E) Courtship. Let’s go through them one after another with few examples.

A) Physical Clues: Since input through eyes dominates all other types of sensory inputs reaching to brain, they also give away how and what our brain feels about or rates the physical environment around us. How comfortable we are in given physical environment is unconsciously conveyed by our eyes and its surrounding area. Also, eyes give way clues if our body is suffering from any internal or external factors such as injury, exhaustion or unrest.

Very good example of same is our unconsciously response to light, air flow or harmful entities. When harsh light or wind current hits our eyes, we simply squint or protect our eye balls by tightening muscles that surround eye balls. Eye lids are partially or fully closed if required. Eyebrows are also pulled down to provide additional protection to eye balls. If extreme conditions, we cover our eyes with palms, look down or move our face away.

Eyes also give away if we are experiencing intolerable pain e. g. badly aching tooth or broken bones. Response to pain and physical sufferings is given away by squinting, pulling eyebrows down and shedding tears. When I compare photos of my face taken at the time when I was suffering from intense back and neck pain with those taken after end of sufferings, I clearly see that area around my eye balls appears more relaxed.

B) Social Clues: Each of us is an integral part of human society which is filled with people having varying socio-economical statues, authorities, resources, belongings, experiences, skills, age groups and physical capacities. Superiority (or dominance), Equality (or equi-dominance) and Subordination (or sub-dominance) can loosely be translated as Respect or Authority, Friendship and Insignificance respectively.

The way one person makes an eye contact with somebody or the way it puts itself into relative physical position (elevation and distance) while looking at other person(s) conveys how the person wants other person(s) to regard him/her. It might be irrespective of how other person(s) really regards him/her. Eye contact made by a dominant, powerful or superior person is exactly opposite to what a subordinate, powerless or inferior person does.

Egoistic, dominant and powerful persons make unhindered, straight, steady and elongated eye contact (with no smile). Most often, they raise their chin to express their confidence and lower it down to derogate or frighten. Often, they maintain considerable physical distance from subordinates and if possible - place themselves on high elevation.
Running eyes from tip to town of subordinate is also done by bossy or type A persons. Imagine a king sitting on a high throne, looking over officers in his court.

C) Psychological Clues: As eyes collect visual clues to be sent to brain, they are also involved in expressing few basic emotions. In fact, facial expressions related with various emotions and feelings are incomplete without eyes. On the other hand, only eyes and its surrounding area are capable of giving emotional clues even when other parts of face are hidden or invisible to an experienced and skilled observer.

Surprised child
Muscles around eyes and eyebrows convey basic emotions like fear, anger, surprise and sadness. While expressing both fear and anger, we pull our eyebrows close to each other and downward only to give protection for eye balls while eye balls appear to be larger in size. However, inner ends of eyebrows move upwards and away from each other in fear.

In sadness, eye balls appear to be normal size and eyebrows aren’t pulled downward but only their inner ends move upwards and away from each other. While expressing surprise or shock, eyebrows go upward and away from eye balls since brain needs to collect more and more visual clues coming through eyes. Just eyebrows can convey fear, anger, surprise and sadness.

D) Cognitive Clues: Eyes are gateways to enormous information, knowledge and intelligence because only vision collects more than 70% of entire data which is processed by and stored inside brain. Our eyes give clues about how much we are interested, attentive, focused and even in dire need of collecting visual information coming from any entity, person or situation.

It starts with looking at something covertly or overtly. Our eye balls and especially pupils (darker part of eye balls) are re-directed towards the entity. If we are comfortable about and not afraid of the entity then we keep looking at same continuously without squinting, blocking our eyes or moving our eye balls somewhere else. If we’re focused then we bat our eye lids very less.

If we aren’t able to understand, figure out, grasp or clearly focus on something then we squint and pull eyebrows closer to eye balls. Not understanding something clearly leads to stress which is conveyed by tensed eyebrows and muscles around eye balls. If something arouses us or fires up neurons inside our brain then our eye balls appear bigger and eye lids are pulled wide apart.

E) Courtship Clues: If we find somebody (belonging to opposite gender) interesting or appealing then we don’t hesitate to look at the person. In fact, we crave to have glimpse(s) of that person at multiple times. Additionally, we want to let the person know our interest (irrespective of that person’s interest in us) by attracting its attention towards us in many different ways e. g. gesturing or touching our own body.

Come-Hither look
Who you’re looking at can easily be detected by the direction and angle at which your irises are set. More you covertly or overtly look at the person; more it shows your developing interest about same. Unlike man’s direct gazing, woman can observe man of her interest by glancing him sideways. They are master in using peripheral vision so their observation remains almost undetected for most of the time.

If both parties are mutually interested then they start to look at each other briefly and then look away repeatedly for a considerable amount of time. Come-hither look in which a person looks at person by dropping its chin (and closing eyes partially) is a classical signal of invitation for
intimacy. When both persons want to move ahead and initiate courtship then they start looking in each others' eyes. That’s why eyes play a pivotal role during courtship.

Apart from broader classification/categorization of clues mentioned just above, we’ll see some well-known nonverbal give-aways too.

1) Rubbing eyes: Primarily, rubbing of eyes is done to clear away dirt, dust or stickiness from eyes, which we often need to do after getting up from bed in morning.
It is also done if a person gets tired of something and wants to take a short break.

2) Blocking eyes: Generally, blocking of eyes is done when we don’t want to look at something, which might be disturbing, distressing or frightening. Also, if we don't want others to look into our eyes (to read our mind) then we simply block them.

3) Gaze aversion: Gaze aversion is done when we don't want others to know that we're looking at them. It is also done when we loose interest in something or somebody. Instantaneous gaze aversion indicates shyness, anger, nervousness or withdrawal.

4) Sleepy eyes: Sleepy eyes convey lack of energy,
lack of enthusiasm, lack of freshness and sadness. When we get bored of something or somebody, we staring at same with partially closed eyes. Sleepy eyes suggest weakness, illness or psychological disorder too.

5) Enlarged pupils: Size of pupils is directly controlled by brain. When our brain needs more visual input, our pupils get enlarged. Enlarged pupils convey excitement, arousal and increased level of activities inside brain.

6) Downward gaze: Downward gaze indicate lack of confidence,
nervousness, shyness or self-involvement. Downward gaze also suggests embarrassment, insult, loss or sadness. Also it suggests (temporary) social withdrawal.

7) Line-of-sight gaze: Line-of-sight gaze indicates interest, attentiveness, confidence, courageousness, enthusiasm or social involvement. Line-of-sight gaze is considered very normal and also more (socially) acceptable among all other kinds of gazes.
8) Upward gaze: Upward gaze indicates imagination, visualization, fantasizing, thinking, creativity and also (temporary) withdrawal from social interaction. Looking up also indicates stubbornness, contempt, dislike, boredom or preying to almighty.

9) Closed eyes: When we close our eye, world around us cease to exist. Loosely closed eyes with no stress around eye balls indicate peacefulness, contemplativeness or meditativeness. Tightly closed eyes indicate high stress, pain or internal conflict.

10) Shifty eyes: Shifty eyes or unsteady gaze suggests confusion, fear, stress, craziness or lack of confidence. Unlike steady gaze or direct eye contact, shifty eyes during face-to-face interactions are considered less trustworthy.

11) Blinking eyes: When eye lids start opening and closing rapidly in cycles then it's considered as absolutely abnormal. (Rapidly) Blinking eyes suggest fear, nervousness, guilt, anger and instability. Blinking also suggest hyper neural activities.

Eyes smile too!
If you really want to become master the language of eyes then you have to become a very good observer by being highly attentive towards (minute) details. You must be mentally present in any given situation and have your eyes (and ears also) completely fixed on the person you're observing. Ability to pick and decode different signals given away by eyes with respect to given situation is really important but also very challenging.

I'm quite sure that it ultimately would open a portal to your social development. More you try understanding people; more you become confident, prosperous, peaceful, secured, strong and satisfied. What else you might want?

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