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What's Up with Eyebrows

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, Improbable Research staff

High-Pitched Singing and Hi-PitchedEyebrows
“Facial Expression and Vocal Pitch Height: Evidence of an Intermodal Association,” David Huron, Sofia Dahl, and Randolph Johnson, Empirical Musicology Review, vol. 4, no. 3, 2009, pp. 93–100. (Thanks to Martin Gardiner for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Ohio State University in the U.S. and at Aalborg University Copenhagen, Denmark, report;

Forty-four participants were asked to sing moderate, high, and low pitches while their faces were photographed…. [I]ndependent judges selected the high-pitch faces as more friendly than the low-pitch faces. When photographs were cropped to show only the eye region, judges still rated the high-pitch faces friendlier than the low-pitch faces…. An analysis of the facial features shows a strong correlation between eyebrow position and sung pitch—consistent with the role of eyebrows in signaling aggression  and appeasement.

A Role for the Eyebrows
“A Role for Eyebrows in Regulating the Visibility of Eye Gaze Direction,” Roger Watt, Ben Craven, and Sandra Quinn, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 60, no. 9, September 2007, pp. 1169–77. (Thanks to Jilly Dybka for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the University of Stirling, U.K., report:

We report data showing that the accuracy of gaze deviation detection is independent of viewing distance up to a certain critical distance, beyond which it collapses. This is, of itself, surprising since most visual tasks are performed better at closer viewing distances. Our data also show that the critical distance, but not accuracy, is affected by the position of the eyebrows so that lowering the eyebrows reduces the critical distance…. [Our] interpretation of eyebrow function… provides a novel explanation for several well-known eyebrow actions, including the eyebrow flash.

Arch Beauty en Femmes
“Quantifying the Arch Position of the Female Eyebrow,” James M. Roth and Stephen E. Metzinger, Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, vol. 5, 2003, pp. 235–9. (Thanks to Christine Danowski for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, who are at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, explain what they did:

Full-face frontal magazine photographs of 100 fashion models published between January and July 2001 were analyzed. Apparent EAP [eyebrow arch position] relative to a line through the medial canthus parallel to the midline was compared with eyewidth (EW)…. The EAP seems to be 93% to 98% of an EW in the aesthetic model derived from these data.

Topographic Anatomic Analysis of the Male Eyebrow
“The Male Eyebrow: A Topographic Anatomic Analysis,” Scott M. Goldstein and James A. Katowitz, Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, vol. 21, no. 4, July 2005, pp. 285–91. The authors, at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, report:

The male eyebrow sits along the supraorbital ridge and has a flat contour. In men without frank brow ptosis, the eyebrow position relative to the pupil and the lateral canthus does not significantly fall with age despite the periocular changes associated with aging. However, 3-dimensional analysis demonstrates that individuals with deep-set eyes have a lower positioned eyebrow then those with a more shallow depth below the supraorbital rim.

Arch Beauty en Femmes: Differing Views
“Attractiveness of Eyebrow Position and Shape in Females Depends on the Age of the Beholder,” Dominik Feser, Martin Gründl, Marita Eisenmann-Klein, and Lukas Prantl, Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, vol. 31, no. 2, 2007, pp. 154–60. The authors, at the University of Regensburg, Germany, report:

Young subjects up to 30 years of age preferred eyebrows in a lower position, and ruled out arched eyebrows. Subjects older than 50 years stated exactly the opposite preference.

Detail from the study “Attractiveness of Eyebrow Position and Shape in Females Depends on the Age of the Beholder.”

Two Browns’ Brow and Cheek
“The ‘Brown Sisters’: Photogrammetric Analysis of Brow and Cheek Descent,” Tal Friedman, Jacob Golan, Avshalom Shalom, and Melvyn Westreich, Israeli Medical Association Journal, vol. 11, no. 8, August 2009, pp. 470–3. The authors, at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, Zerifin, and Tel Aviv University, Israel, report:

We studied the photographic atlas of the “Brown Sisters,” a record of the yearly group photograph of four sisters taken by the photographer Nicolas Nixon. For technical reasons only two of the sisters fulfilled the criteria we set for the study.

RESULTS: We observed progressive medial brow descent occurring at about the age of 30, with apparent stabilization thereafter. In contrast, there was a continuous process of lateral brow descent through the years….


This article is republished with permission from the March-April 2012 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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