At first glance, eyebrows might seem like just a weird forehead mustache that we all have. But what if we told you that eyebrows are way more important than you might think? In fact, studies have shown that people have a significantly harder time recognizing faces without eyebrows compared to those that are missing eyeballs. But why is this the case? And why did evolution lead us to lose most of our facial hair except this random little part above the eyes? In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating world of eyebrows and why they are so important.
The Evolution of Eyebrows
One of the most distinct features of modern humans is actually our brow ridge, which you can clearly see when looking at our skulls. We evolved smooth long foreheads and agile eyebrows compared to a stiff brow ridge of archaic hominids. A long-standing explanation of eyebrows was simply that they helped keep sweat, rain, and sunlight out of our eyes. After all, the hairs grow outwards towards the side of the face, which can help direct moisture or dirt away. Others have suggested that the different testosterone levels in early hominids or our brain’s frontal lobe growing larger over time may play a role. But after further analysis, some of the most interesting and newer research has suggested that it may actually have to do with a very human trait, empathy.
The Importance of Eyebrows in Communication
As we became an increasingly social species and relied more and more on communication, our eyebrows actually helped us to facilitate and show emotions which increased survival. While early hominids likely preferred a heavy brow ridge as a show of dominance and strength, the need for this would have slowly diminished as communication became more useful. Think about the way that your eyebrows can communicate, sometimes even involuntarily without even changing other parts of your face. Not only can you convey emotions that are big like surprise, happiness, anger, but even minor movements of your eyebrows can cue subtle changes in your emotions like being concerned or concentrating. Eyebrows are an area of high contrast, even from a distance, and since they sit at the top of your face and protrude slightly, they’re less susceptible to shadows and illumination changes.
Eyebrows in Sign Language Communication and Blind People
Perhaps one of the most interesting things we came across was the use of eyebrow expression not only in sign language communication but even the use of eyebrows in those who are completely blind. For deaf people without vocal intonation, tone, or stressing words or syllables, the eyebrows help modulate and complement hand and body signs. A perfect example is the raising of an eyebrow, which naturally serves as a question, much like raising the pitch of your voice at the end of a sentence does. And for blind people, it turns out that even those that are blind from birth still express and use their eyebrows for emotions in the exact same way that sighted people do.
Eyebrows in Dogs
Perhaps one of the cutest examples of eyebrow importance comes from our furry companions, dogs. It turns out that dogs with the most expressive eyebrows are the most likely to be adopted from shelters. In fact, wolves, who share a common ancestor with dogs, physically lack the muscles to control their eyebrows and eyes, whereas almost all dogs have a muscle that pulls the lateral corner of their eyelid toward the ears called the levator anguli oculi medialis. Expressive dog eyebrows are actually the result of unconscious human preference. We so value the communication exhibited from eyebrows that dogs that are able to express that way have a selective advantage.
In conclusion, eyebrows are not just a weird forehead mustache that we all have. They are an important aspect of human evolution and communication. From their role in recognizing faces to their use in sign language communication and even their importance in our furry companions, dogs, eyebrows play a crucial role in our lives. Without them, we would be unable to express ourselves in the same way and would likely struggle to recognize faces as easily as we do.
So, the next time you pluck your eyebrows or consider getting them waxed, remember how important they are to your communication and expression. And who knows, maybe in the future, scientists will discover even more fascinating information about eyebrows and their role in human evolution and communication.
In the meantime, we can appreciate the unique and quirky features of eyebrows and all they bring to our lives. After all, if you had to choose between your eyeballs or your eyebrows, which would you keep? The answer might surprise you now that you know just how important those little hairs above your eyes really are.