Why Do We Side-Eye People? It Turns Out Your Sass Has An Evolutionary Purpose

Most of us are already well aware of the intense power of side-eye: Nothing is so satisfying as when you’re the one giving it, and nothing so utterly shredding as when you’re the one receiving it. But a new video from Stuff Your Mom Never Told You poses an important question: Why do we side-eye people? And why are side-eye and its closely related cousin, eye rolling, associated primarily with women? Host Cristen Conger has the answer.

Conger reports that eye rolling and side-eyeing are universal behaviors. People all over the world express tacit disapproval or irritation by shifting their gazes and heads away. (So next time you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language, you can be confident that you at least know when you’re an object of contempt. Fun, right?) Although both men and women can and do express themselves this way, eye rolling and side-eye tend to be seen as gendered behaviors. As Conger explains, “Anecdotally speaking, we’re far likelier to associate the side-eye and eye rolling with annoyed teenage girls and grown-ass women than boys or men.”

So why does this seem to be a lady thing? It may come down to evolution: Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt, a professor at the University of Ottawa, suggests that, historically, women have used forms of “indirect aggression,” like eye rolling and side-eye, over more overt aggression in order to survive. 

The logic is that if women express aggression through physical fighting, they risk death, and thus the lives of their babies (and thus the PERPETUATION OF THE SPECIES). So we’ve had to figure out how to express disdain and annoyance in a way that doesn’t endanger our lives or those of our offspring: Cue the side-eye. As Conger summarizes, “Women side-eye so that we can be angry and survive at the same time.”

Research has shown that women and girls even have more intense physiological reactions to eye rolls and side-eye than guys do. Vaillancourt says that “An eye roll can trigger our flight-or-fight system” — so if having someone give you the side eye makes you suddenly feel sweaty and anxious, you’re not alone. It also turns out that — no shocker here — eye rolling and side-eyeing are bad for relationships. Research suggests that eye rolling between spouses may be “a strong predictor for divorce,” according to the Wall Street Journal. That said, side-eyeing is an art, perfected by these passive aggressive luminaries:




Can't you just feel the contempt? Watch the whole video below:

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Images: NBC Universal; YouTube; Giphy (1, 2, 3, 4)

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