Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Temple Grandin on the Role of Eyebrows in Animal Communication

I do think about science.  I swear I do.

I'm intrigued by the following observation that I read yesterday in Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson's Animals Make Us Human (NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2009):

Another interesting thing about cat faces: Cats don't have eyebrows the way people and a lot of dogs do.  Eyebrows probably evolved to highlight facial expressions, and a lot of dark-furred dogs have little round light spots right over their eyes that may have evolved fro the same reasons (p. 74).

When I was in college, a friend once told me that when he was a young teen, he had a whim one day to shave off his eyebrows.  And so he did.  And for days after that, his parents looked at him quizzically, frowned, and said, "There's something different about you.  I just can't put my finger on it."

He finally had to tell them that he had shaved away his eyebrows.

And hearing that story made me think for the first time about the seemingly vestigial role eyebrows play in the make-up of human (and other) faces--and yet an important role, nonetheless.  Until I had read the preceding passage, however, I suppose I had concluded that the vestigial biological function eyebrows might play is to protect the eyes from either blows or from the influx of fluids (e.g., perspiration) from the brow itself.

I now realize that they may, indeed, play an important role in helping primates (and canines, and others), which communicate face-to-face to express emotion, to signal welcome/hostility/irony/humor or a thousand other emotions about which a dialogue partner would want to know, in order to have a rewarding dialogue.

And I have to say, I find Temple Grandin's approach to science more compelling than that of Greenfield, Platek, et al.

The graphic: our two boys Valentine and Crispen as pups

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