Why Do We Roll Our Eyes?


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Do you hate seeing others rolling with their eyes? It’s not a good feeling to get the rolling eyes to say the least, but where does eye-rolling even come from? Body language can make up to 80 percent of human communication. It’s a kind of non-verbal communication and communicating with the eyes is part of the category for communicating based on facial expressions.

I thought this subject would make for an interesting article after watching a BBC comedy sketch by Tracey Ullman in which she is making impressions of Angela Merkel, the Germany chancellor, or chancellorette, as they say in the clips. In one video, in particular, they are addressing Merkel’s case of rolling the eyes frequently and not having a good political poker face. Entirely up to date and funny if you ask me.

A brief history

We can trace back eye-rolling in human behavior via literacy to the times of William Shakespeare but it might be older as well and just wasn’t documented before. However, the somewhat cynical message that eye-rolling sends nowadays only developed in the 1980s.

Some people write that this is a female behavior, focusing on teenage girls in particular, but I would say that this is not a behavior exclusive to women. I roll my eyes too. Sometimes I notice it, but I bet I do it many times without even noticing it. Depending on what sources you are asking, others say that the behavior is seen in both female and male juveniles, but the females would be more dominant in the frequency of eye-rolling. That could be, but I have no data to back that up. I’d also add that it’s not only exclusive to teenagers, but it could be that they use it with a higher frequency.

What do rolling eyes mean?

Rolling the eyes is nowadays a passive-aggressive response to an undesirable situation. A message to communicate disapproval, displeasure, reject the situation or even attack the person who is being communicated to. It’s widely regarded as immature means of communicating this emotion without aiding the stance by providing contextual information to explain the disdain.

As far as managing communication, relationship, and rapport go, eye-rolling is one of the most destructive means to send a message, even though you might not say anything. In stronger cases, it could be accompanied by crossed arms, throwing the head back as well as an audible click or exhaling loudly. In its capacity to communicate negatively it’s only second to stonewalling (refusing to talk or evading conversation). Side-eying is a similar message, but unlike eye-rolling, giving a side-eye communicates judgment or even anger.

Why are we eye-rolling?

Evolutionary speaking, psychologists suggest that eye-rolling has found its way into human communication as “a low-risk way to express aggression and disapproval.” It could have been developed as part of a survival strategy to avoid violence. Rolling the eyes and looking away from someone or something is a reaction to an unpleasant situation that has found its way into many different cultures and the signal is likely to be similarly perceived all around the globe.

Further reading

If you thought this subject was interesting you might also enjoy the following articles:

Photo credit: Robin Higgins / Giphy
Source: Forrest Wickman (Slate) / Roisin O’Connor (Independent) / Wikipedia

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isakhttps://techacute.com
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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