I have a couple of teenagers. If you’ve ever dealt with a teenager, chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of eye rolling and maybe rolled your eyes right back. I have even heard myself saying: “Don’t roll your eyes at me!” But, why do we do it? Is it a cultural thing or does it go deeper? Let’s investigate this a bit further.
Eye rolling as we know it now only became common in the 1980s. Prior to that, in western cultures, eye rolling was more associated with desire than disgust. Even so, studies across cultures have found that most cultures have similar movements that involve looking away as a sign of disgust or arrogance. In fact, the Wikipedia definition is defined as a “passive-aggressive response to an undesirable situation or person. The gesture is used to disagree or dismiss the targeted person without physical contact.”
If you have somehow never been on the receiving end of an eye roll you have somehow never met a teenager.
So, why do we do it? Psychologists have a couple ideas. One is that it’s a safe and non-confrontational form of aggression. Chances are your eye roll won’t be noticed and even if it is you can always backtrack which you can’t do if you just threw a punch.
The other possible reason is even simpler. When we see something that offends or disgusts us, we just have an urge to look away. Ewww!
Regardless of the underlying reason, humans have a much larger white of the eye than other animals, including other primates, and so we can communicate more easily using our eye movements.
Still, if you’re going to roll your eyes and cast some serious shade, make sure you are not on video, so you can pretend it never happened if things get heated. Also, take it easy on your parents. They have your best interests at heart….