There is a strong correlation between arousal and specific eye movements like dilation and blink rate.
Our eyes naturally dilate to allow more light in, but dilation also occurs in response to cognitive and emotional events.
So when we’re interested or in any way emotionally stimulated — positively or negatively — in what we’re looking at, our pupils dilate.
In fact, men tend to be attracted to women with larger pupils. So much so that in Italy, over five centuries ago, women used Belladonna plant extract to dilate their pupils in an effort to appear more attractive, Scientific American reported.
Increased blink rate, in some cases, is another strong indication we’re lusting after a person. For some people, blink rate spikes when they’re emotionally excited, Eastman explains, so consistent blinking (more than the average 10 blinks per minute) may be another sign a person’s attracted to you.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, Hess et al studied the effect of pupil size on feelings of attraction. In one experiment, they took two pictures of the same woman, presented it to male subjects and asked them to describe the female in the picture. The researchers had artistically altered the photographs, manipulating the size of the woman’s pupils to be either slightly larger or smaller than they were in their natural state.
Hess noted that “none of the men reported noticing the difference in pupil size” between any of the pictures but the subtle change seemed to subconsciously influence the level of attraction they felt for the woman. When the woman had large pupils, she was said to be “soft,” “more feminine” and “pretty,” while when the very same woman had small pupils, the men described her as “cold,” “hard” and “selfish.” This frequently referenced experiment and phenomenon has been re-tested using a variety of different methods over the years and has yielded the same results; men finding women with bigger pupils to be more romantically appealing.
So why does this preference for women with large pupils exist? It may be a reproductive strategy for men to ensure their success in the biological quest of passing on their genes. By this I mean that in a recent study it has been demonstrated that women’s pupils dilate the widest while looking at a prospective partner or loved one during times of ovulation. And since we know that men find women with large pupils alluring, it seems to be the perfect formula and timing to promote successful reproduction and perpetuation of the species.
Now, let’s turn the tables. Are women attracted to men with large pupils? The answer is sometimes. Apparently for women, larger pupils being more attractive in a mate holds true if they are into the ‘bad boy’ type or are seeking a short term fling. Tombs and Silverman conducted experiments in which they took high school photos of men and women and altered them. The same person’s picture was photoshopped into three different versions with the pupils being either small, medium or large. As expected they revealed male participants in the experiment rated the pictures of the woman with large pupils to be most attractive, consistent with the earlier studies by Hess.
However, Tombs and Silverman were surprised by the results they collected from women. In their hypothesis, they had predicted women would pick only men with medium sized pupils to be most attractive, thinking that the women would similarly follow a reproductive strategy, guaranteeing the success of their soon-to-be offspring by picking a mate who is not over-sexed, like the one with large pupils was thought to be.
It was thought the man with the medium sized pupils should be perceived as less promiscuous and a better caregiver to their young. Some women found men with medium pupils to be attractive while others found the males with large pupils to be most attractive. They were surprised when some women picked men with large pupils.
Instead of chalking this unexpected result off, they wanted to know why some women went against their hypothesis.
They questioned another subset of women and determined that the women who unknowingly were more attracted to men with larger pupils also reported that they usually get romantically involved with bad boy types while women who preferred men with medium sized pupils sought long term relationships with ‘nice guys’ more often than not.
It is amazing to me that the pupils of the eyes are so involved with love, influencing our attraction for someone else, signaling when we are turned on and excited, even setting the stage for making us more alluring during ovulation?
But perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, Helen Fisher et al has been measuring MRI brain activity of participants who were said to be deeply in love. Fisher found that areas of the brain rich in dopamine receptors were activated in participants while viewing a picture of their loved one. Dopamine causes excitement, energy and motivation. Another thing dopamine causes? Pupillary Dilation. Enlarged pupils can be caused by so many things, but now perhaps we know a bit better, that one of those things could be love.