Eye-popping phenomenon: How does Jalisa Thompson do that?

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By Jane Weaver

When we’re scared or surprised, our eyes widen. But actress Jalisa Thompson’s eyes really pop. As bulge right out of their sockets. As in a wild, Wile E. Coyote cartoon-character eye pop.

Thompson was part of a TODAY prank promoting Thinkmodo’s viral marketing campaign for a new horror movie “Ouija.” She played a medium who shocked TODAY’s own Natalie Morales and Jenna Bush Hager during a psychic session.

Jalisa ThompsonToday

Believe it or not, the bug-eyed Thompson is a champion – a two-time winner of Ripley’s “Great Face Off,” an event where people vie to see who can make the weirdest, funniest faces.   

Thompson, who looks normal when she’s not bugging her eyes, has said in an interview that she first scared her mom at age 12 with her peeper popping. 

On TODAY's Take Morales said Thompson credited the extreme eye bulging talent to incredible muscle control, which is why the Thinkmodo team set their sights on her. It's rare, for sure, but Kim Goodman of Chicago and British YouTube star John Doyle, who has bulged his orbs in time with Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," are other famous eye poppers. 


Jalisa ThompsonToday

Ophthalmologist Dr. Sean Donahue, Coleman Professor in Ophthalmology and Neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says eyes being pushed forward can be caused by various factors such as trauma or thyroid disease where the muscles that move the eye get very swollen and push the eyes out forward, making them appear more prominent.

But some people like Thompson can do it spontaneously— possibly because of the shape of their face or they have shallow eye sockets — by straining and increasing the pressure in the sockets and, BOING, push the eyes beyond the eyelids. 

“The concern is the repetitive trauma caused by the stretch could cause permanent damage to the optic nerve,” says Donahue. 

In other words, leave the eye popping to the professionals. 

“Don’t try this at home,” says Donahue.