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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 5

Concept of Self Resides in the Eyes

We think the self resides in the eyes, not the head



COURTESY OF CHRISTINA STARMANS Yale University

Three experiments published recently in the journal Cognition sought to locate our physical sense of self. Children and adults viewed several drawings of characters with an object and in each case judged how close the object was to the illustrated person. Results showed that participants tended to measure distance from the character's eyes, even when the object was not in the person's line of sight. The researchers took this to mean that we place the concept of self in the eyes. To make sure that people were not judging distance from the head, researchers included an alien with eyes on its chest in their study. “By moving the eyes off the head, we could test whether people were really drawn to the eyes or just the head in general,” says study author Christina Starmans, a Ph.D. student at Yale University. Both children and adults still perceived the eyes as the location of the self.

This article was originally published with the title "Your Eyes, Your Self."

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