Why do humans have whites in their eyes? The answer is rooted in social interaction.

Why do humans have whites in their eyes? The answer is rooted in social interaction.

Why do humans have whites in their eyes? The answer is rooted in social interaction.

In these difficult days of pandemic lockdown, social isolation has dramatically affected millions of people who have been forced into social isolation with a consequential impact on physical and mental health. Following this, we begin to see just how social we are and how being deprived of social interaction affects our mental health.

The reality is that human babies are designed to naturally develop the essential interaction with others that will enable them to become fully functioning human beings in adult life, and it is how this is achieved that is so fascinating. To understand this, we must start looking at communication in infancy and early childhood.

It has always been fascinating to compare a newborn human baby with a baby of the animal world. The human baby could never become independent for many years, whereas the animal baby could be fully independent in a matter of weeks, if not days!

Why is this, and what factors play a part in this early human development process?

The need for constant care is because, during this period, complex human communication skills begin to develop.

Have you ever wondered why the human eye sclera (the white portion of the eye) is white? Have you noticed that in other animals and even primates, the sclera is pigmented? Well, one theory is the co-operative eye hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that we have developed this way because much of human communication is silent and through our eyes. That's why poker players wear sunglasses when playing - they can impair the sending and receiving of social signals. Eye expression is an innate way of understanding what someone is thinking, feeling, or their next move. To infer that someone might have noticed something we haven't, or simply understand that others might have a different perspective from us, is known as the Theory of Mind. Most animals have a limited Theory of Mind and as such, the theory suggests why humans alone have developed such striking differences between iris and sclera. 

Such attentiveness to eyes may be interpreted as indicating a babies' apparent interest in other people, which begins with staring into the eyes of a parent or cuddling into the parent for comfort. Interestingly enough, when you look into the eyes of some newborn babies, you feel that sensation…you know why? Research shows that when we lock gaze with a baby, our brainwaves sync!

This simple gazing into a parent's eyes begins to develop into smiling or cooing, which is rewarding for parent and child alike. 

This initial and constant communication between baby and parent becomes increasingly coordinated, reflecting in early forms of communication; for example, when a baby reaches her arms toward her parent, the meaning of this action is apparent…I want to be held…which leads to the parent picking up the baby. This then is the beginning of two-way communication between baby and adult. Later this arms up gesture will be replaced by speech… "up".

From here, humans develop more complex communication skills…Sharing a toy, for example, or simply pointing at something, all of which leads to the development of more advanced communication skills.

It is easy to understand how increasingly sophisticated human thinking emerges as communication develops in everyday interaction. Initially, the baby's words refer to things in the here and now. Still, as time goes by, they can communicate experiences not connected with the here and now. The child could recount a historical experience at preschool or fabricating intricate storylines and imaginary people.

Finally, the claim that human thinking can be likened to computer systems is based on a flawed assumption that meaning is fixed, as it is in a computer. Instead, human communication is rooted in shared ways of interacting, which is very different!

Why we show the whites of our eyes. https://medicalxpress.com/pdf396254065.pdf

Relationships and progressive human communication skills. https://childandfamilyblog.com/relationships-progressive-human-communication-skills/

Speaker gaze increases information coupling between infant and adult brains. (2017). Leong, V., Byrne, E., Clackson, K., Georgieva, S., Lam, S & Wass, S. 


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