Eyebrows keep the perspiration from our forehead from running down into our eyes. The perspiration that forms when we get hot is trapped by the eyebrows and turned aside, and the moisture runs down our temples on the sides of our face; otherwise it would blur our vision and make us feel uncomfortable.

Eyebrows form a crucial factor in our facial appearance. This can be clearly proven, for instance, if someone you know decides to pluck their eyebrows - the slightest and subtlest of plucking will result in a change dramatic enough for you to notice.

In fact, a helluva lot of people spend quite some time preening their eyebrows - what was previously a vain measure taken only by women is now one commonly employed by the less-gentle sex too. They are a feature, which like the nose and ears, can be considered attractive or unattractive. In addition, they are defintely the most expressive feature in the face. Few seem to notice this - ask any random person what the most expressive feature in the face is, and you will be faced with replies like 'the eyes' and 'the lips'. This is true of course, but think about it. A simple raising or lowering of the eyebrows can show an affirmation, thought, incredulity, anger - much of the expressiveness attirbuted to the eyes in fact is partly due to the eyebrows. All this gives the eyebrows great facial importance in modern culture.

But what was the original function of the eyebrows? Evolution resulted in the loss of much of superficial hair in humans... yet the little lines of hair over each eye were retained. This means they must have had some vital function.

Anthropologists and scientists are as yet unsure about the actual function of the eyebrows, but the best guess is that they keep sweat and rain out of our eyes. The arch shape they sport diverts moisture down the sides of the face as opposed to in the eyes. This must have aided early man - being able to see in rainy conditions meant finding shelter was less difficult- also being able to see while sweating made chasing prey for food and running away from predators far easier.

Perhaps in modern day life, considering eyebrows as a survival tool is not that hip. This is what drives us to pluck them, shave them and pencil them in mercilessly. It is easy to forget their original role. But next time you are being hunted in prehistoric earth by some sabre-toothed thingie or other, try shaving off your eyebrows. You can bet your best club that having sweat pour into your eyes won't be helping you at all.

Eyebrows are a fine thing indeed, and though I'm not a big fan of plucking them, I do have one thing to say: eyebrows (IMO) look much better when they have some shape, and are not simply lines. Also, shaving them into triangles gives the appearance of being constantly angry, ie Pamela Anderson.

All of this obsession with eyebrows - especially among women, although as another noder mentioned it is becoming popular among men - leads to one obvious conclusion, and that is that eyebrows are a factor in physical attraction. I can only wonder why this is. There is, however, reason to believe that the "original" purpose of eyebrows was to express emotion. Knowing another's emotional state is important in judging how to react to them. In a study by Paul Ekman of various cultures, most people from every culture he quizzed could recognize the facial expressions from other cultures. Countries tested: Brazil, Chile, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, New Guinea, Scotland, Sumatra, Turkey, and the United States. The emotions tested were anger, happiness, fear, surprise, disgust, sadness, and contempt. This suggest that the facial expression and recognition of emotions is universal, and has developed through evolution, not through culture.

One last thought: no matter how late it is, and no matter how badly you want to play with the electric hair trimmer, DO NOT shave your eyebrows off. You will look like a cancer patient/martian. I know from personal experience.

Psychology . Carole Wade and Carol Tavris. Sixth edition, 2000.

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