One of the differences that exist between humans and the other apes is the distinctive white around our pupils; apes tend to be much less differentiated. Researchers wondered if it conveyed a communication advantage to us to be able to see eye movement more clearly.
In a clever experiment they got apes to watch a person and see how they responded when the experimenter looked up and to the sides, either moving their head only, their eyes only, or both. They discovered that apes responded much more to the movement of the head in terms of it causing them to look in the same direction, then to the eyes. When the experiment was repeated with a child the result was the opposite, the child followed the experimenters gaze much more, and placed less importance on the movement of the head.
It might be that, being communal hunters, being able to see a comrades eyes and follow their direction at a distance enabled prey to be hunted more effectively. In apes, other apes being able to see where you were looking could cost you food.
But it also might have significance in other areas of social cooperation. In NLP the idea of eyes looking in certain directions for different kinds of internal thought processes has been around for many years. I know it’s disputed in many quarters, and I don’t think it’s as simple as the basic model suggests, but I do believe that eye direction is often connected to the context or structure of a current thought, and I think that unconsciously we read such connections all the time; ever wondered why we describe someone who is unhappy as ‘looking down’, why someone is a ‘down right liar’, why we suggest to people that ‘things will look up’.
Perhaps the whiteness of our eyes has something to do with our ability to read people as well as we do?