The ears may lean towards gossip but your eyes find a way to protect yourself from it, if need be. An interesting experiment recently conducted at Northeastern University reveals that your eyes and brain select for information that may help save you from trouble or danger in the long run. Participants in this study were simultaneously shown a different image to each of their eyes using a mirror stereoscope. One of their eyes was shown an image of a house, while the other eye was shown an image of a human face at the same time. Each eye seeing a different image creates binocular rivalry and the brain ends up having to choose which image to pay the most attention to and it temporarily ignores or suppresses the other eye’s input. While the participants were shown these images they were told something about the face of the person in the image. They were either told a positive, neutral or negative statement and the subject matter of the statement was also social or non-social. For example, “he threw a chair at someone in his class” would be a negative, social statement, while “she drew the curtains in the room” would be a neutral, non-social statement.
The researchers then had people describe what they were seeing and for how long (the brain and the eyes may switch back and forth between the two images before deciding on which one will take over their visual consciousness completely). They found that participants reported their eyes (and brain) saw the image of a person’s face for a longer period of time when it was associated with a negative, social statement. They believe this may be a sort of protective mechanism; that if they focus on the face longer, knowing that it is a ‘bad guy,’ they may be creating a mental note to watch out for, or to stay far away from, that person in the future. Have you ever heard someone say that after they found out something about someone else, they ‘never looked at’ that person the same way? This may explain part of the reason why. Our eyes and our brain may be actively compiling a visual index of who is friend and who is foe. Interesting stuff! This gives new meaning to the phrase, I was “just looking out for you.”