Eyes top left but why?

Eyes top left is an article I wrote in 2007, and a mini tutorial as well. (Some people just can't help themselves.) Sean Laffey responded with some fascinating insights into this hypnotic target for human eyes. Thanks, Sean!

Dear Rachel.

After reading your article on Eyes = Top left , here's my take on what
was found, I offer this as both a photographer and biologist.

In picture making and picture taking there is a rule of thirds, the
most pleasing easily remembered images have a focal point 1/3 of the
way in from the edge of the frame.

The most striking example is when this focal point is at the top left
third. Photographers say that this gives the subject of the photograph
"space to move into" . This relates to the way most people in the
west read from left to right, the eye naturally tracks away from the
left once it has locked on.

Why might this have arisen? Here's an evolutionary explanation.

Most people are right handed and we feel safer if our strongest arm
is free to protect and defend us. So it is best if we keep any new
person we meet slightly to the left of us, this accounts for the right
handshake where we have to turn our bodies fractionally to the left
to greet someone.

In this situation, our visual field places the new person to our
left and we make eye contact by looking ahead or upwards, (unless of
course we are relatively taller than the person we are greeting). If
we leave space to the right of the person and space above them in our
visual frame we have time to judge how friendly they are ( space above
means we are a few steps away) and having space to the right gives
us an exit route should we care not to meet them.

This is probably hot wired into the brain and would help explain the
natural reaction to look top left first.

It would be interesting to compare the "Eyes Top Left" method with
people who are left handed, exceptionally tall people (who have no
choice but to look down to greet people) and cultures such as many in
Asia where writing is read right-left and bottom to top.

All the best

Sean Laffey


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