Believe it or not but people actually believe that our eyes can emit invisible laser beams that can either move or affect things around us.
You know, just like Superman.
That might sound like something straight for a comic book but it is actually something that people believe in. At least that's what a study from Princeton University found.
Professor Michael Graziano, who is well known for his unorthodox approach to science, asked 724 participants in the study if they believed our eyes produced an invisible force of energy.
If you were to guess the outcome of this you would probably say that no one would believe in such nonsense but five per cent of those asked said that the did subscribe to the theory that people could translate some sort of energy from their eyes.
However, the results of a similar test that Graziano has published in the National Academy of Sciences is perhaps even more eye-opening (pardon the pun).
In this test, he assessed people's subconscious attitudes towards this notion. The new study saw 157 subjects study images of paper tubes at different heights, diameters and material. All the participants had to do is guess how far they felt the tubes could be tilted without them falling over. To complicate matters an illustration of a man named 'Kevin' was shown alongside the tubes. Sometimes Kevin was blindfolded and in other diagrams, he wasn't.
In the diagrams where Kevin's eyes weren't obscured people tended to believe that the tubes could be tilted towards him but when he was blindfolded or if the tube was made of a heavy material, that idea disappeared. Therefore, if Kevin could produce beams of light from his eyes then the objects could have rested against them.
The difference in the responses was just 0.64º on average, which might not seem like much but it was deemed significant enough by Graziano and his co-authors. In the study they report that this belief was consistent amongst people who believed that eyes could emit forces and those that don't:
As a part of social cognition, people automatically construct rich models of other people’s vision.
Here we show that when people judge the mechanical forces acting on an object, their judgments are biased by another person gazing at the object.
The bias is consistent with an implicit perception that gaze adds a gentle force, pushing on the object.
The bias was present even though the participants were not explicitly aware of it and claimed that they did not believe in an extramission view of vision (a common folk view of vision in which the eyes emit an invisible energy).
They add that these findings may explain why we sometimes believe that some people have a magnetic or piercing stare and why there is some much emphasis put on vision in culture and mythology.
The findings suggest that people automatically and implicitly generate a model of other people’s vision that uses the simplifying construct of beams coming out of the eyes.
This implicit model of active gaze may be a hidden, yet fundamental, part of the rich process of social cognition, contributing to how we perceive visual agency.
It may also help explain the extraordinary cultural persistence of the extramission myth of vision.