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3 Things Your Eyes Tell the World

Studies reveal the extent that our eyes really are windows to our souls.

Volt Collection/Shutterstock
Source: Volt Collection/Shutterstock

When Shakespeare wrote that the eyes are the window to the soul, he didn't have the benefit of scientific studies to draw on. Yet centuries later, research supports his statement. Our eyes communicate a range of emotions, from discomfort to surprise to joy. They also convey other kinds of information outside of our conscious awareness.

Here are 3 surprising things our eyes say to others when we may not even realize it:

  1. "I'm competitive." This may be the case especially for those of Northern European descent. Australian researchers assessed the relationship between personality traits and eye color in individuals of White UK origin (classified in the study as Northern European) and White Non-UK origin (other Europeans). The investigators found that people with lighter eyes were lower on the personality measure of agreeable—with less agreeableness being a “personality marker” for competitiveness. The authors argued that the association between blue eyes and competitiveness in this sample lends support for the idea that blue eyes would have offered a mating advantage in Northern Europe during the last Ice Age, when extreme conditions intensified competition.

  2. "I'm attractive." The whiteness of our eyes may make us more attractive. In a study, participants were presented with 200 images of eyes. The researchers manipulated the tint of the sclera—commonly known as the whites of the eyes—with the use of digital imaging processing. In the images, half the sclerae were tinted red, and half were clear white. The participants were asked to rate how sad, healthy, or attractive the person to whom the eyes belonged, on the basis of seeing their eyes alone. The results revealed that people with bloodshot eyes appear sadder, less healthy, and less attractive compared to those with whiter eyes.

  3. "I'm concentrating." Pupil dilation is a response of our autonomic nervous systems. Previous studies have shown that while we exert mental effort, our pupil size increases. Consider a study in which participants completed a series of math problems of varying difficulty: The diameter of their pupil size increased significantly when answering difficult questions, as compared to easier ones.

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