You’ve probably heard this proverbial saying a hundred times: “the eyes are windows to the soul.” How often have you made decisions based on what someone else’s eyes are telling you? Specifically, what do your pupils say to the rest of the world?
The truth is that your eyes are a dead giveaway of your thoughts. But much of the information they transmit is through your pupils. Whether they dilate or constrict can give many clues to others about what we say or don’t say.
Just like everything else in life, this has its advantages and disadvantages. And don’t think that this method is one hundred percent accurate and reliable. But still, your pupils have a lot to communicate, and it’s interesting to learn to read and interpret them.
1. You’re focused on something
Your pupils are a true mirror of what’s happening in your brain. When something requires that you focus your attention on an activity, the pupils dilate.
This was observed during a 1964 study conducted at the University of Chicago by psychologists Eckhard Hess and James M. Polt, who found that the pupils became larger during times when participants faced increasingly difficult tasks.
On the other hand, when they took on activities that were less complex, their pupils contracted slightly.
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2. You’re worn out
In the early 1970s, psychologists at the University of California wanted to know how the pupils respond to a mental overload, which is to say when you’ve run out of steam, or reached your limits of cognitive ability.
Their interest in the subject led them to ask a group of volunteers to solve a series of multiple choice questions on a computer screen as quickly as they could. Participants only had to choose from four possible answers for each.
But while the test at first seemed simple enough, there was a hidden trap. In particular, the sequence of problems never ended and each new one appeared very quickly after the previous one.
It exhausted the volunteers to the point that they had to leave. The researchers found that when a participant’s brain was overloaded, their pupils shrank considerably.
3. Something has your attention
In 1977, psychologists White and Maltzman were interested in how the pupils would change when participants heard excerpts from three different kinds of books: one erotic novel, one on torture, and a third neutral subject.
At the outset of the study, because we usually respond with interest and attention to a new stimulus, all participants’ pupils dilated. But they only remained dilated in participants who were listening to the erotic novel or torture, while the level of interest decreased in participants who heard the neutral story along with the size of their pupils.
4. Something is wrong with your brain
It’s common to have your pupil size checked with a flashlight when you go to the doctor to ensure that your neurological system is functioning normally. If they’re not the same size, it could indicate a neurological disorder like a stroke or a problem with your vision, for example.
Want to know more? Read: 10 Commandments to Keep Your Brain Young and Fit
5. You’re sexually attracted to someone
How do you know if a man is attracted to a woman, and vice versa? Both of their pupils will dilate to their limits.
But while Bernick’s studies on this subject in 1971 seem to suggest that sexual desire can cause an increase in pupil size, other studies have shown that it’s the physical attraction that provokes this reaction, and not the person themselves.
6. You feel revulsion
Once again, another group of psychologists from the University of Chicago conducted an investigation into this theme by introducing participants to a series of images designed to trigger different emotional responses.
As they watched the slides, their pupil activity was recorded every second. When they saw images of child abuse, torture, or other violent scenes they reacted with disgust, not surprisingly.
But also when they viewed these appalling images, researchers noted that the pupils initially dilated but then constricted immediately in size, as if the participants were unconsciously trying not to see them.
7. You are in pain
A 1992 study conducted by psychologist Alex Chapman found that when participants experienced small doses of physical pain, their pupils dilated.
In fact, they would dilate more than 0.2 mm. This finding is an important one to evaluate the intensity of pain, and the threshold that each person is capable of bearing.
8. You’ve been using drugs or alcohol
Certain drugs like alcohol and opiates (e.g., morphine) cause the pupils to contract. But amphetamines, cocaine, and LSD have the opposite effect, causing the pupils to dilate significantly. This is why police usually check the pupils of drivers when conducting random field sobriety checks.
With respect to drug use, it’s interesting to note that this particular reaction nearly always occurs, even when consumption is moderate. If excessive use or intoxication has occurred, however, the pupils usually reverse their response to the other extreme.
9. It could reveal your personality…even your political beliefs!
It’s hard to know what kind of a person you are just based on the state of your pupils. But Professor Matt Larsson of the Karolinska Institute (Sweden) found that the lines in your iris can help others uncover some of the characteristics of your personality.
If you look at the colored part of a person’s eye – the iris – and observe a large number of squiggly lines, or crypts, that radiate outward, that person tends to be more sensitive, honest, and friendly.
On the other hand, Larsson noted that a number of distinct furrows, or circular lines around the edge of the iris, can indicate an impulsive or nervous person. This is no doubt an important finding that should be investigated further to see what additional information can be derived from the iris.
According to these studies, the key is in the Pax6 gene, which is involved in the generation and growth of eye tissue and the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain, which is responsible for regulating mood and self-control.
Furthermore, in a study conducted in 1969, researcher Barlow observed participants’ pupils dilate when presented with a photo of a liberal or conservative political candidate, and their individual responses corresponded with their own ideological and political leanings.
Can anyone notice these small details in your pupils?
You might think that such details will slip right past you, because they’re too insignificant to catch your attention. But a study conducted at Dartmouth College found that while you might not consciously register these little shifts, they’re not lost upon your subconscious.
One way or another, they say that the areas of the brain that are responsible for processing your emotions are able to perceive even these tiny details, preparing your body to respond.