When we greet others from a distance, we give them a slight head nod or we raise our eyebrows very briefly, the latter resulting in an expression known as the ‘eyebrow flash’.
In an ‘eyebrow flash’, the eyebrows rise rapidly for a split second and then drop again. The purpose of the ‘eyebrow flash’ is to draw attention to one’s face so that other facial expressions of communication can be exchanged.
The ‘eyebrow flash’ is used around the world as a long-distance greeting signal except in Japan where it is considered improper and impolite.
Culture can, and often does, modify the meaning our conscious body language gestures and facial expressions. Eyebrow flash is, without doubt, a conscious facial expression that we choose to give only to the people we know.
What the eyebrow flash conveys
Raising the eyebrows signals fear or surprise in the language of facial expressions.
So when we greet someone and raise our eyebrows, it could mean “I’m surprised (pleasantly) to see you” or it could be a fear reaction signaling, “I’m non-threatening” or “I won’t harm you” or “I am intimidated by you” or “I submit to you” just like a smile.
Perhaps this is why the ‘eyebrow flash’ is almost always accompanied by a smile.
Monkeys and other apes also use this expression to convey a “non-threatening” attitude. Whether it is surprise or fear, or a mixture of both the emotions that lie at the root of this expression, one thing is clear- it always conveys the message “I acknowledge you” or “I see you” or “I submit to you”.
If you have problems figuring out how the eyebrow flash could possibly be a submission signal (“I submit to you”) compare it with the head nod, an obvious submission gesture in which we decrease our height to acknowledge the higher status of the other person.
Since the slight head nod and the eyebrow flash can both be used, almost interchangeably, as a long-distance greeting signal, they must convey the same attitude. If ‘A’ equals ‘B’ and ‘B’ equals ‘C’, then ‘A’ equals ‘C’.
Submission and dominance
As I mentioned before, in the language of facial expressions raising the eyebrows is associated with fear or surprise. When we are afraid, we are automatically driven to a submissive position. So raising the eyebrows indicates submissiveness.
These emotions drive us to a dominant position from where we seek to assert ourselves and belittle or condescend or patronize someone. So lowering the eyebrows, in general, indicates dominance.
If the conclusions that we’ve reached about raising and lowering the eyebrows are correct, then the laws of male-female attraction (males are attracted to submissiveness and females are attracted to dominance) governed by dominance and submission, should also apply here.
And they do, beautifully so.
Men are attracted to women with raised eyebrows (submission) and women are attracted to men with lowered eyebrows (dominance). It is for this reason that most men naturally have low-set eyebrows, a gift from nature to help them look more dominant.
Men with spiky hairstyles are often considered ‘cool’ because the more the forehead is exposed; the less is the perceived distance between the brows and the eyes.
On the other hand, women raise their eyebrows and eyelids to create the ‘baby-face’ appearance of an infant which is very attractive to men because it signals submissiveness. Raising the eyebrows also allows women to make their eyes appear larger than they are.
Nature knew this all along that’s why it has provided a majority of women with high-set eyebrows. Those who’ve been deprived of this gift pluck and redraw their eyebrows higher up the forehead to compensate for nature’s forgetfulness.
They don’t know why they do it but on an unconscious level, they understand that men find it attractive.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve written 280+ articles and published one book about human behavior on this blog that has garnered over 3 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.