Why Do I Make a Weird Face When I Apply Mascara?

iStock
iStock

Mascara Face. You know what it is: that slack-jawed, open-mouthed, dopey look when someone swipes the wand over their lashes again and again in an effort to get them just right.

It seems to be a worldwide and well-documented phenomenon. Nina Leykind, cofounder of British mascara giant Eyeko, tells mental_floss she knows the look well. As someone who helped create the concept of a“mascara bar,” she's seen plenty of people apply the stuff. “I love mascara face!” she says. “Bizarrely, as soon as someone lifts the wand to their eye, their mouth opens. I think if someone is not doing mascara face in front of me, it’s because it’s a conscious effort not to.”

We asked Rockefeller University neuroscientist Zeeshan Ozair for a possible explanation behind mascara face. According to Ozair, three nerves acting in conjunction—the trigeminal, the facial, and the oculomotor nerve—are likely responsible.

“The trigeminal nerve controls the movement of muscles of mastication, which open and close your jaw,” Ozair tells mental_floss. “Two other nerves, the facial nerve and the oculomotor nerve, together control the movement of eyeballs and eyelids.” Those three nerves all originate in close proximity to one another in the brainstem at a point of origin called a nucleus.

Mascara face may be a kind of physiological fluke. “In several people, connections”—called collaterals—“develop between these different brainstem nuclei,” says Ozair, who’s currently studying human-specific aspects of neural development and corticogenesis (cortical development). “As a consequence of these collaterals, when one nerve is activated, the other is as well.”

But mascara face doesn't have to happen, Ozair says. As Leykind has observed at her company's mascara bars, people aware of her presence became self-conscious of their own facial movements and were able to stop. In instances where muscles respond to both voluntary control and involuntary reflexes, as is the case with mascara face, “voluntary control almost always takes precedence,” says Ozair.

He likens it to the knee-jerk reflex. “If you were to actively think about it, you could stop the knee jerk from happening," he says. "Likewise, if one were to think about [mascara face], you could stop the mouth movement voluntarily.”

But why doesn’t the phenomenon happen when someone simply opens their eyes without applying mascara? Well, it can, explains Ozair. Think about the last time you heard truly shocking news. Did your mouth fall open? Was it "agape"? Did you call the news "jaw-dropping?" Those terms aren't metaphors. “In periods of stress, e.g., when you hear bad news, the voluntary control of the jaw is overridden, and you may open your mouth agape unconsciously,” Ozair says.

When it comes to applying mascara, the physical action stimulates the sensory part of the trigeminal nerve, which forms connections with the motor trigeminal nucleus. In other words, says Ozair, the action provides additional input for the slack-jaw reaction. In this case, you don't need to hear jaw-dropping news for your jaw to, well, drop.

Interestingly, the phenomenon doesn’t happen in reverse; for example, your eyes don’t pop open when you’re chewing. That's because the collaterals have directionality. “Reflexes in one direction don’t translate into reflexes in the opposite direction,” Ozair says.

There are exceptions. In rare instances, some people have collaterals in the opposite direction. “When they open their mouths,” he notes, “they involuntarily lift their eyelids as well.” (Which raises the question: Is the opposite of mascara mouth lipstick eyes?)

So, what percentage of the population actually possesses the collaterals responsible for mascara face? For that, Ozair says, “I don’t have an answer … This hasn’t been studied at an epidemiological level!”

Epidemiologists, looks like the (eye)ball’s in your court now.

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

What Do Pets See When They Watch Television?

This dog would like to turn off Netflix's autoplay feature.
This dog would like to turn off Netflix's autoplay feature.
Amatore/iStock via Getty Images

In 2012, a television commercial aired in the UK for Bakers dog food that was conceived and produced specifically to attract the attention of dogs. The spot used high-frequency sounds that are inaudible to human ears. In theory, the dog would be so captivated by the advertisement that owners would take note and perhaps purchase Bakers for their next meal.

This didn’t quite work. Many dogs failed to react at all, proving that when it comes to television ads, humans may be more impressionable than canines.

While pets may not be so easily manipulated, they still find the television screen interesting, sometimes reacting to other dogs, animals, sounds, or images. But what is a dog really seeing when they tune in?

When it comes to color, television is no different from reality for a dog. They have dichromatic vision, which means they see the world through the range of two primary colors, yellow and blue. (Humans have trichromatic vision, able to see the full color spectrum.) Cone cells in canine eyes are also believed to blur their sight to a degree. More importantly, dogs process the frame rate, or “flicker fusion frequency,” of screens differently than people. Humans can detect movement at between 16 and 20 frames per second. Dogs need 70 frames per second or more. If they’re looking at an older television, it might resemble a flip book or even a strobe light effect to them. (Modern sets have a faster frame rate, which is why dogs might be more interested in your high-definition television.)

That helps explain the visuals. What about the content? Typically, dogs will react to the same things that would draw their attention in a room—barking, squeaking toys, or commands. In a study published in Animal Cognition in 2013, nine dogs were observed to see if they could pick out the face of another dog—regardless of breed—on a computer screen instead of another animal or a person. The dogs were rewarded with treats with a successful choice. Though the sample size was small, it indicated dogs can recognize other dogs on a screen. (Which you likely already knew if you’ve ever observed your dog suddenly on alert when a canine appears on camera.)

If your dog used to get excited by another dog on television but has since lost interest, it’s possible they simply became desensitized to their appearance, realizing the image in front of them isn’t going to move out of the boundaries of the monitor.

Content unrelated to dogs might not be of much interest. In a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, dogs presented with three different viewing screens didn’t exhibit any particular preference for one over the other. If they were shown three screens at one time, they seemed uninterested in watching anything at all.

The study also noted that dogs had a limited television attention span. Rather than mimic the binge-watching habits of humans, dogs prefer to glance at a screen for a few seconds at a time. But that behavior could also be breed-specific. Dogs bred for hunting might be interested in moving objects, while dogs that rely more on smell might be indifferent.

And what about cats? In a study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science in 2008, 125 shelter cats were given a television to view for up to three hours a day. The cats were split into five groups and given a variety of programming to watch, from humans to footage of prey to a blank screen. On average, cats spent just 6.1 percent of the observation time watching the screen. When they did, it was mostly to focus on the prey.

Because cats may react to images of birds and rodents on television, owners should avoid letting them watch unattended. You can also secure the set to a wall to make sure they don’t knock it down.

For the most part, dogs and cats are far more interested in what’s going on in the real world compared to what's on TV. We could probably take a lesson from their limited screen time.