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Things Are Looking Up

By Julie Dieterle

Recently I read an article from Scientific America debunking the idea that watching where someone’s eyes go when asked a question can tell you whether they are lying or not.

According to Wiseman, the myth seems to have originated in the literature of neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP, a self-help philosophy created in the 1970s and 80s. “Originally, they wrote about reconstructed memories versus generated memories—the difference between imagination and an event that actually happened,” he says.

This was then extrapolated to mean “lying”.

The article goes on … Although this myth has been debunked, there are some ways to analyze an interviewee’s behavior to get hints on whether they’re lying – but the methods are far more complicated that simply tracking the direction a person is looking.

Apparently (my words now) looking up and left may be indicating our desire to be creative in our presentation of a truth. AND this lead me to think about eye movement in other perspectives.

In a study regarding depressed patients, one of the attending physicians noticed everyone sitting in the room looking at TV in front of the room had their eyes down. He found that when the TV was raised on a wall mount, the patients actually improved in facial expression, following movement of others in the room and making eye contact with others. Signs of depression decreased.

We all have noticed that shy persons, depressed persons, and persons that have low self-esteem, or those that did something wrong and are ashamed, will look down. New research suggests that such eye movement and positioning actually reflect negative thinking and more focus on negative thoughts.

One such (research study) involves using an eye-tracking device to monitor the duration of a patient’s gaze when presented with emotionally evocative stimuli, such as photos of happy or sad faces. A study published last August in Psychiatry Research found that depressed patients maintained their gaze on happy faces for a shorter amount of time than healthy controls and patients with remitted depression.

According to the researchers, these findings are in line with previous studies suggesting that people with depression tend to have an attentional bias for negative information, which may be one factor that increases vulnerability to depressive episodes.1

Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC, is a psychotherapist and freelance writer based in Atlanta.

I was noticing, after looking at the image of eye movement, what I did when I read something. I found myself reading something and then looking away downward (perhaps checking in with my feelings and talking to myself about what I read?). Then I look up to really “ponder it”, and maybe thinking how it fits into life, values, and beliefs.

It has also been reported that placing art work in a position that we have to look up to view it, the viewer found the art to be more beautiful. If I think about it, I have seen people pick up a picture and view it and then hold it out at arm’s length and slightly higher than straight out in front to appreciate it.

As a therapist working with the body, I am very aware from various theorists like Feldenkrais and Alexander, eye movement and body movement can enhance flexibility and access reflexes that assist or interfere with activities. Looking up tends to improve strength and give “just that little bit more” to endurance.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a line to EMDR, a type of therapy that uses eye movement to change our mental focus, get us out of “stuck” patterns in our thinking and actions.

“Our experiments clearly show that negative autobiographical memories are very rich in sensory detail, and by pairing them with eye movements, they lose this sensory richness,” Lee says. “People describe that the memories become less vivid and more distant, that they seem further in the past and harder to focus on. What follows after this distancing is a reduction in the associated emotional levels.” In other words, the traumatic memory stays, but its power has been diminished. (By Tori Rodriguez | Dec 19, 2012)

If I think of looking down, I think of minutia, details, the “small stuff”, the dirt in the corner, the mistakes in the writing, or flaws in the vase; but when I look up I get a broader view; I can see how it all fits together into the whole.

I notice how many things that are up high-like the sunset, the New York Skyline, the starry night sky, the lights hanging from the trees in Rotary Gardens-draw my attention and seem to bring words like “awesome, wow, and grand”. I feel hope, joy, wonder.

I also think about how others might use these understandings to influence us. I wonder if looking up at huge screens at the movie theater makes the movie more spectacular to us, even outside of the size we tend to look up. Does that cause our minds to give the movie more impact? Certainly watching the same movie on the TV at home can totally change how I receive the story and images as well. I guess the movie screen, for me, makes things “bigger than life”.

I suspect authorities and advertisers understand these ideas and use them. We look up to flags, government buildings, churches, altars, towers, portraits of leaders, movie stars, sports heroes. Huh, now that I think about it, I put UP posters and sayings I want to “hold in high esteem” too!  Who do you hold up?

From a mindful or spiritual perspective we get this from the Aramaic Bible in Plain English “I shall lift my eyes to the hills; from where will come my helper?”

Perhaps they had something there. Given my ponderings here, I would much rather look up than down. How about you?

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