Why do we like wearing sunglasses? What are we hiding when we do?


Each time I have left my dorm the last week to head to a class, meeting, or meal, I have always found myself grabbing my trusty Ray-Ban sunglasses.  Though often times the sun has been out, even on a day of overcast I wanted to wear them. I have always felt “better” when I am in my shades.  I wanted to know if there was anything behind this feeling besides looking “cool. ”I figured there may be a study on this and searched around to find one that lead me into other research.


The particular study that grabbed my attention dealt with why sunglasses boost the wearer’s self-confidence. The man in charge of the study, Dr. Glenn Wilson drew several conclusions from his work. He stated that the sunglasses mask the wearer’s eyes and thus allows less information for others to read emotions and expressions. This gives the wearer a sense of unpredictability and power that leads to more confidence according to the summary done by BBC of the study.


With a possible reason as to why I feel “better” with sunglasses found, I wanted to dig deeper into what we can read on people’s faces and especially the region our sunglasses hide. I found an informative page on microexpressions, which defined them as “a brief, involuntary facial expression that is shown on the face of humans according to the emotions that are being experienced.”  These fraction-of-a-second contractions of facial muscles and eye movement are vital to comprehension of a person’s thoughts. They can be hard to pick up on because of their brief nature. There are several different expressions that all include movements of the eyelids and brow. Examples include fear, surprise, disgust, and sadness. I found that a lot of these micro expressions are either hidden or made ambiguous by wearing sunglasses. I would love to see an experiment done comparing people’s ability to read emotions of others with and without sunglasses just to see how affective sunglasses are in masking.


When the lenses are dark enough, sunglasses prevent direct eye contact from being made.  So what else does our eye contact give another person that sunglasses hide? In a psychology research journal by Michael Argyle and Janet Dean I found that eye contact has a huge input into an interaction. It signals to the person talking that they are listening and ready to receive more information. Argyle and Dean cite the way people look away when thinking as an action used to free more of the brain to think because eye contact engages part of the brain with information.  Further conclusions can be drawn from eye contact or lack there of about personality and insecurity. People who make lots of eye contact and therefore demand that in return can be seen as needing to be loved and paid attention to. People who refrain from eye contact do not want to be seen. They feel as if they are no good from the eyes of the other and fear rejection.  All of this information is lost behind the lenses of our sunglasses.


The last thing I looked into was if we could gauge someone’s intelligence by looking at his or her eyes. I have always felt that competence and intelligence are detectable by eye contact. Though I did not find a study focusing only on looking at eyes to determine intelligence I found one along those lines.  Czech Republic research had 160 people look at 80 pictures of people (40 men 40 women) straight faced and close up. Though they were no better than chance at gauging the 40 women’s IQ they were better than chance with the men. This suggests that facial features may be used to gauge IQ. I think that the eyes have a lot to do with that. Once again, I would like to see a study in which we isolate the variable of sunglass wear and see how it skews how people perceive that person’s intelligence.


From simply wanting to wear my sunglasses, my curiosities grew and lead me on a path of research. Sunglasses give some of us self-confidence from hiding behind them. I have found out that we are hiding a lot. From our microexpressions, to our personality, to our insecurities, and possibly our intelligence our eye region tells people a lot. So next time you head out, make sure you are wearing sunglasses for the right reason.





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1 thought on “Why do we like wearing sunglasses? What are we hiding when we do?

  1. Patrick Hryckiewicz

    This is a very interesting topic! Personally, I feel like most people just look better with sunglasses on. I’m not exactly sure why. Whenever I have them on I just feel cool, like a someone from a movie or something. I also agree with the idea that it makes people more confident. From my personal experience, I find it easier to talk to people with sunglasses on because I don’t feel like I have to stare into their eyes for the whole conversation. It’s just comforting and cool to wear them.

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