Recognising people through their eyes


Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash

Two days ago, I saw a familiar boomer face. At first, I tried to smile with my eyes, but I was wearing my sunglasses paired with my navy blue face mask.

I removed my sunglasses and smiled with my eyes. However, the boomer was taking a while to recognise me. It was only when she was standing about 1 metre away that she recognised me immediately. She apologised and said that it was hard to recognise people as everyone looks like Zorro with a face mask on.

Over the two years of the pandemic, most people have heightened a sense of reading someone through their eyes. However, I have noticed that some people are oblivious to the eyes. I am only stating this based on my observations of this pandemic. Once, I had to meet my parents at an LRT station last year. As it was still the pandemic, I was wearing a mask as per government regulation. I saw my parents and waved at them, but they ignored me. Then, I approached them closely and gave my mother a shock. She saw me earlier, but she thought it was another person trying to wave at her. I must have looked like a salesperson trying to get her to buy something.

It is too narrow to say that boomers have a problem recognising someone through their eyes. I remember meeting my friend (a millennial) physically in 2020. She lamented that she cannot observe people’s expressions when they are wearing masks. I told her to observe the eyes and mentioned that our eyes become smaller when people laugh. We both started laughing, and she said, “Mata sudah jadi sepet,” which is translated as “our eyes became extremely small.”

These few observations raised a few questions for me:

1. Why do boomers (in general) have a hard time recognising someone based on their eyes? Is it because they are in the surviving mode, hence ignoring people’s body language?

2. Does observing people’s eyes reflect a person’s state of awareness and sensitivity? While the earlier question assumes the boomers to lack observation skills, I have also met a boomer aunty who recognised me from far though I wore a mask.  I suspect emotional health influences the way we observe eyes, as this aunty is sensitive and aware.

3. While my friend is a millennial, she was not aware that she could read expressions from people’s eyes. She came from a village. Does the environment influence how someone observes another person?

Anyway, this post is just based on my observations and initial questioning. It is not meant to be conclusive, but I like to write it down as a reminder.