why rolling your eyes is so instinctual when you are annoyed or frustrated



My 17 month old daughter has started rolling her eyes during moments of frustration or when she is annoyed with me or my husband. There’s no way, at 17 months old, that that is intentional, I imagine it’s more instinctual. And, tbh, when I find myself suppressing an eye roll of my own, it feels like I’m fighting a natural urge. Maybe I’m just dramatic?? Lol

In: Biology

Before we developed words, we had non verbal communication. Eye contact was usually involved in establishing dominance, e.t.c, so a lot of signals from there were sure to pop up.

Psychologists note that females, especially young ones, are fast more likely to roll their eyes at something, so it’s been suggested it’s a way to say “I’m not even going to *look* at you that’s so dumb”, but without looking like a challenging glare is being made, or on the reverse, looking submissive by looking down.

No concrete answer out there, though, far as I know.

Nope, it’s not. It’s learned cultural behavior. South Korean culture has no eye rolling, for example.

So your daughter has learned it from you and your husband, or people around her.

edit: People who say there *is* eye rolling in Korea, you’ve reminded me of the big mantra in linguistics, “Never say never.” But people who cite Wikipedia need to read the article carefully for what constitutes facts vs opinions and read the cited sources carefully, because the sources don’t say what you want them to.

edit: and for Korean people who know of eye rolling, how would you translate it? Because 눈알을 굴리다 describes people looking in different directions, kind of like trying to cheat in exams, not the “ugh” gesture.

Sorry, what makes you think a 17mo old’s behavior is not intentional? They may not have the breadth of understanding of their actions/consequences of those actions that you do, but why assume they don’t have intentions behind their behavior?

Babies are sponges for the information around them. If they see you roll your eyes, they will copy you. They may not understand you inner dialog for why you rolled your eyes, but if they saw it get results of some kind, they may have rolled their eyes this time because they thought it might get a result they desired. Good luck with your young one. Try not to project too much onto them.

I don’t know if it counts as ‘eye-rolling’, but babies do break eye-contact when feeling overwhelmed. They can’t help but process what they see, so to ‘get away’ they look elsewhere. Maybe eye-rolling as a cultural cue comes from that process. A mental head-shake if you will.

Not everyone rolls their eyes. It’s a cultural thing, and babies are extremely good at mirroring what adults around them do (in fact, this is how we learn to do things!).

Edit: To add to the above, OP I think you find it so instinctual because you’ve probably picked up the behaviour of rolling your eyes when annoyed/frustrated from pretty early on, and have probably reinforced that by actually doing that action when feeling annoyed, frustrated, etc. At this point, it’s become nearly muscle memory to you, and feels extremely instinctive. My point above wasn’t to invalidate how it *feels* instinctive to you, but only to point out how this must have happened, and that it doesn’t necessarily a thing in many other cultures around the world.

At some point in the past 100 years, eye rolling meant something completely different.

I remember seeing old black and white movies where the lead character would roll their eyes in delight over the one they loved. Almost like a display of ecstasy.

Definitely not instinctive. Lived in Brazil most of my childhood and adulthood, and never seen an eye roll in response to anything.

Def not instinctual; when my son was around 5 or 6 he said his friend did “this” to him (*rolls eyes*) and what does it mean?

The heck is 17 months, can’t we say 1 year and half at this point?

It’s a pattern of learned behavior through positive reinforcement. You are upset at someone and instead of verbally saying that you are upset, you roll your eyes and receive the same response

She’s mimicking behavior she sees from you and other adults around her. You “suppressing your own natural behavior” is just you fighting cultural norms you’ve grown used to.

Don’t think I’ve ever once rolled my eyes, I don’t even think I could without looking special.

Kids are mirrors. Eye rolling is learned behavior. She’s seen you do it so she does it too.

You sound like another victim that underestimates children 🙂 They literally play on “they think I’m too dumb for that” card. So when you think they are not smart enough to do something, they are not only actually smart enough to do that, they are smart enough to know, thay you think they are not smart enough to do that. This is where they really get you.

It isn’t..? It’s learned behavior. I only see it happen in American TV and only young people here in western Europe emulate it. My parents for example or most people from southern Europe don’t do this.

I didn’t teach my kid to eye roll but I very deliberately worked on her delivery of a withering side eye from the time she was an infant. 10/10 totally worth it, would inculcate her again.

I remember rolling my eyes when I was around 5 or 6 when a teacher was telling me off. That was the day I discovered that my eyes were not, in fact, invisible to other people!

In India, I haven’t seen anyone rolling eyes, instead, we look away or make faces in disapproval/disgust.

It’s not instinctual. The baby learned it from their caretakers.

I grew up in Thailand. I didn’t start rolling my eyes until I saw people do it in Hollywood movies and TV shows.

Rolling one’s eyes might well be instinctual. It is known by neuroscience practitioners that a subject rolls their eyes up in a micro movement when accessing imagination and down when accessing memories.
It could well be that a baby/child, who upon hearing something that they disagree with and rolls their eyes up, could be accessing their projected imagination. They might be registering a cognitive dissonance between what they hopefully imagined would be the outcome and comparing it to what they are disappointedly being told.