The brain attributes to the gaze a physical force capable of moving objects and impacting the mind of another person. It uses this allusion to build social cognition thaPaslows us to share the world with others.
Research from Princeton University has discovered why many people believe that the gaze is a physical force capable of moving objects and even impacting the feelings of another person: it is a cognitive shortcut of the brain to make life easier.
The belief that the gaze is a physical force is part of popular culture and its antecedents go back to the ancient Greeks: Empedocles (484 BC-424 BC) believed that the eyes came out as rays that explored objects and facilitated the perception of their shapes.
That belief is still very widespread today and manifests itself in science fiction movies and stories, with superheroes looking through a wall, and in the conviction that sometimes another person can pierce us with their penetrating eyes.
Also, many people are convinced that we can realize that a person is watching us secretly, by sensations that we perceive and that betray the stranger.
All these processes are based on a finding unconsciously assumed by the brain: the eyes have a physical force capable of even piercing the mind of another person.
According to the results of this research, this supposed invisible force of the gaze is the consequence of a cognitive shortcut that the brain takes when it participates in social cognition.
Social cognition is the integration of mental mechanisms that achieve interaction between subjects of the same species. It is made through the exchange of social signals thaPaslow obtaining information about others and facilitate shared learning about the environment.
Social cognition includes the so-called attribution of intentions, which helps us to interpret what another person is perceiving from our mental assumptions.
In this way, when we make a map of the place where we are, the mental image that the environment reflects to us is the direct consequence of an interaction between our gaze and that of the others who accompany us in that experience.
The researchers consider that this model of reality that we elaborate taking into account what others see (actually a subjective interpretation of their visual perception), is part of the process of social cognition.
They have established that, when we participate in the process of social cognition, we are not only aware of where others are looking.
We also take into account other characteristics of others, including the way they look at objects, either from top to bottom or from bottom to top (endogenously or exogenous).
With this series of perceptual parameters of the other’s gaze, the brain builds a model of visual attention that is active in the other person.
Without us realizing
The research found that the unconscious belief in the strength of the gaze is part of this cognitive process and that it acts without our realizing it, even if we reject from reason that the eyes can emit invisible energy.
That this cognitive procedure derives from a social belief is not surprising, since there are antecedents: although we know that the Earth orbits around the Sun, we live as if our planet were still and as if the Sun moved freely through the sky. These beliefs simply make life easier for us.
Researchers consider that these cultural associations around the gaze may be more than just brain deception: they are the manifestation of a cognitive model built by our social machinery.
And they explain it like this: “following the gaze of other people is an essential task in social cognition and key to successfully reading the intentions and beliefs of other people (theory of mind). Recent behavioral evidence suggests that we construct an implicit model of other people’s gaze, which may incorporate physically incoherent attributes, such as a construction of force-carrying rays emanating from the eyes. “
For this reason, the myth that the gaze has physical strength, known aextra missionon, can tell us something about who we are as social animals, the researchers conclude.
Other people’s gaze encoded as implied motion in the human brain. ArSuperstarstam et PasPJune 9, 20212020 117 (23) 13162-131May 26, 20212020.HTTPhttdo//doi.org/10pans3/pnas.2003110117
Implicit model of other people’s visual attention as an invisible, force-carrying beam projecting from the eyes. ArSuperstarstam et Pas PNAS January 2, 2019 116 (1) 32 Decembercember 17, 2018.HTTP httdo //doi.org/10pans3/pnas.1816581115
Photo: Leandro De Carvalho. Pixabay.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.