Eyespots: supernatural or supernormal? A case study from Papua New Guinea

Journal article


Grant, R. and Montrose, V.T. (2023). Eyespots: supernatural or supernormal? A case study from Papua New Guinea . Culture and Evolution.
AuthorsGrant, R. and Montrose, V.T.
Abstract

Eyespots are found across many taxa, usually for predator intimidation. In human artefacts, eye designs have been presumed to have an apotropaic function (warding off supernatural evil and envy) rather than an evolutionary function related to protection from agonistic interactions. We hypothesised that, instead, eyespot designs may have been used in human cultures for intimidation of opponents (deimatic display). We examined 1070 objects from Papua New Guinea, where eyespots are frequently displayed on various objects. We predicted that objects used for guarding or protection would be more likely to have eyespots than domestic objects. Chi-square tests of independence showed that significantly more canoe prows and shields and fewer domestic objects had eyespots than expected. Furthermore, we surveyed 81 respondents, showing objects with and without eyespot patterns. Chi-square tests showed that objects with eyespots elicited significantly more fear and anxiety related emotions and non-eyespot designs elicited more calm and relaxed emotions than expected. Thus, objects with eyespots were considered more intimidating than those displaying geometric, or plain designs. This research provides empirical evidence for the use of eyespot designs for deimatic display in humans and possible co-evolution of eyespots due to gene – culture coevolution.

KeywordsDeimatic display; eyespots; human behaviour ; Papua New Guinea ; apopotraic; evil eye ; evolution
Year2023
JournalCulture and Evolution
PublisherAkadémiai Kiadó
ISSN2560-0982
Publication dates
OnlineDec 2023
Publication process dates
Accepted29 Nov 2023
Deposited29 Nov 2023
Accepted author manuscript
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Open
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