We generally assume people wear sunglasses to protect their eyes against the sun. That may be true in most cases, but sunglasses also have a psychological effect. In fact, they have this strange tendency to influence the way people behave. Studies have shown that individuals are more likely to engage in less honorable behavior simply because they are wearing sunglasses.
If the science is to be believed, it could explain why police officers, FBI agents, and other groups of people wear sunglasses even when they are not exposed to bright sunshine. It could explain why characters in films and TV shows wear sunglasses even when the story line doesn’t really call for them.
Olympic Eyewear, a Utah company that designs and sells wholesale sunglasses, explains that consumers tend to attach certain emotions to sunglasses. For example, people feel like sunglasses make them look cool. Perhaps this explains to some degree why so many people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a piece of plastic with two polarized lenses. They pay for the emotional well-being the glasses afford them.
A Study of Human Behavior
The most critical component to the arguments in this article is based in scientific research. To that end, let’s talk about a 2010 study that looked at how people behave when exposed to different levels of light. The study was conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Researchers were working under the assumption that darkness and/or the perception of concealed identity influences the way people behave. They set up three separate experiments and gathered the data. Here’s what they discovered:
- Experiment 1 – Participants working in a dimly lit room were more likely to cheat than those in well-lit rooms. Cheating earned participants greater rewards.
- Experiment 2 – Participants wearing sunglasses were less charitable and more selfish than those wearing no sunglasses or glasses with clear lenses.
- Experiment 3 – Participants who perceived a certain level of anonymity were more likely to exhibit self-centered behaviors than those who perceived their identities to be well known.
The main point of this study was to show that darkness gives people a false sense of anonymity and, therefore, makes them more likely to engage in less than desirable behaviors. But the science seems to go further than that. The science suggests that people are willing to do any number of things, in general, when they perceive a level of anonymity.
Sunglasses Hide a Lot
It is undeniable that sunglasses hide a lot. They hide what you are thinking by preventing others from seeing your eyes. Likewise, they hide your emotions. Take police officers, for example. In the midst of a tense situation, a pair of dark sunglasses can hide both fear and anger simultaneously. That would be to the advantage of the officer.
Sunglasses also hide the direction of the eyes. People around you have no way of knowing what you are looking at if your eyes are covered and you keep your head in the same position. You could look to the left, to the right, or even up or down and no one would know.
It is clear from the science that people are more prone to certain behaviors if they feel as though they are anonymous. It stands to reason that sunglasses may encourage the same kinds of behaviors. Though sunglasses do not necessarily protect a person’s identity completely, they do give wearers that sense of anonymity that allows them to do things they otherwise would not.