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Eye-rolling has been defined as a passive-aggressive response to an undesirable situation or person. The gesture is used to attack the targeted person without physical contact, and usually considered an immature response.[1]


Eye-rolling has been present in literature since at least the 16th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.[2] William Shakespeare periodically would use the gesture in his works to portray lust or passion for another character, as used in his poem The Rape of Lucrece.[3][4] In this time period, eye-rolling was used commonly as an expression of desire or flirtation, and it continued to be used this way in literature for centuries. Up until about the 1950s this same meaning was used in music and films, but began translating to the meaning known today. The widespread use of eye-rolling in a negative connotation wasn't present until the 1980s.[5]

In society[edit]

The facial expression is used more often by adolescent girls than boys, and is one of the most common forms of non-verbal communication among humans.[6][5] When studying exclusively adolescent females, the eye-roll gesture was observed to be the most prominent response to displeasure. 13-year-old girls showed eye-rolling to be the main sign of aggression toward their peers in social situations, and has been proven to be one of the top causes of social anxiety or depression in adolescents.[7] Eye rolling is often accompanied by crossing of the arms and throwing the head or body back in an increased effort to symbolize avoidance or displeasure. Avoidance may be characterized by conveying hostility or distancing, often with the purpose of ending a relationship of any kind.[8]

In a study conducted by John Gottman, it was determined that eye-rolling is one of the #1 factors of predicting divorce, followed by criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.[9] The gesture shows the other party that what they are doing is so undesirable that it is not even worth looking at or giving a thought, which is why many relationships are destroyed by excessive use of the action.

In 2018, a Chinese journalist's eye-rolling became international news. She rolled her eyes while exasperated by another journalist's excessive obsequiousness towards a government official, and got censored as a result, with CNN reporting rumors that her press credentials were revoked because of the eye-rolling.[10]


There has been much speculation about the fact that eye-rolling is an evolutionary trait of women, which is why it is performed more by females than their male counterparts. Psychologists suggest that it was developed as "a low-risk way to express aggression and disapproval." Women in the past were more motivated to use survival tactics that did not involve physical violence in conflict including cut-eye, or side-eye, likely related to maternal instincts.[11][12] The action of looking away in rejection or disapproval has been traced to many different cultures, who use eye-rolling for similar purposes, suggesting that it is a somewhat innate reaction to unpleasant stimuli.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Connor, Roisin (18 February 2016). "Why do people roll their eyes? Psychologist suggests theories for passive-aggressive sign in teenage girls". The Independent. Retrieved 26 October 2017. 
  2. ^ "Home : Oxford English Dictionary". www.oed.com. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  3. ^ O'Connor, Roisin (18 February 2016). "Why do people roll their eyes? Psychologist suggests theories for passive-aggressive sign in teenage girls". The Independent. Retrieved 26 October 2017. 
  4. ^ "THE RAPE OF LUCRECE". shakespeare.mit.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  5. ^ a b ""What Does An Eye Roll Mean?"". Essilor News. Retrieved 20 November 2017. 
  6. ^ LaFrance, Adrienne (May 11, 2016). "Why 13-Year-Old Girls Are the Queens of Eye-Rolling". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 26, 2017. 
  7. ^ Shute; Owens; Slee (27 March 2012). ""You just stare at them and give them daggers": Nonverbal Expressions of Social Aggression in Teenage Girls". International Journal of Adolescence and Youth. 10: 355. 
  8. ^ Kahlbaugh, Patricia E.; Haviland, Jeannette M. "Nonverbal communication between parents and adolescents: A study of approach and avoidance behaviors". Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. 18 (1): 91–113. doi:10.1007/bf02169080. 
  9. ^ Wong, Brittany (9 May 2016). ""This Behavior Is The #1 Predictor Of Divorce, And You're Guilty Of It"". Huffington Post. Retrieved 20 November 2017. 
  10. ^ https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/14/asia/china-viral-eye-roll-intl/index.html
  11. ^ Scott, Ellen (25 March 2016). ""This is Why We Side-Eye, According to Science"". Metro News. Retrieved 20 November 2017. 
  12. ^ Bess, Gabby (18 February 2016). ""Evolution Explains Why Women Love Rolling Their Eyes So Much"". Broadly - Vice. Retrieved 20 November 2017. 
  13. ^ Wickman, Forrest (15 January 2013). ""When Did We Start Rolling Our Eyes to Express Contempt?"". Slate. Retrieved 20 November 2017.