New York (c) Ilan Witteberg (c) Ilan Wittenberg Faces of Rwanda
Eyes are windows to the Soul
People often call eyes the windows to the soul. But what exactly do we see when we gaze into the eyes of another person? In fact, the eyes do provide lots of information about another person’s emotional state.
Our eyes don’t lie: they’re windows to the soul. They show the truth, no matter what face we put on, in any situation. The best way to get to know someone is to look them in the eyes and observe what they reveal about their emotional state.
Our eyes, just like our body language, give us away, and they say more than we ever could with words. As a matter of fact, most of the information we convey is through nonverbal language, which ranges from simple looks to all of the movements we make.
Many studies have shown that when we meet someone for the first time, our eyes can convey a wide range of feelings: trust or distrust, security, contentment, fear, etc. We know this is true because it happens every day: it’s as if we were capable of transcending our bodily limits and reaching their soul through their eyes.
Some experts, whose jobs require them to study faces, have observed that eyes are the window to the soul because they’re the most sincere part of the face. We don’t have any control over our eyes, as opposed to the mouth, for example. When you like something, your pupils dilate involuntarily and give you away, and they contract as a sign of rejection.
Here’s an list of some of the information that eyes can convey:
When your eyes elongate, wrinkle, and shine more than normal, you probably feel pretty good. You don’t need to see someone smile to notice that they’re happy.
If someone is looking at you with open eyes and a penetrating gaze, it means they’re paying attention to what you’re saying and to what’s happening. If they’re talking to you, they’re paying attention to your words, and you’d have to focus on other nonverbal features to figure out if they’re judging you for better or worse.
Through the windows of the soul, we can see sadness, one of the emotions we feel the most but often try to hide. In this case, the eyelids raise, as does the lower edge of the eyebrows.
When we get angry, our eyebrows arch, and our expression is completely serious. Sometimes, we even frown.
When we listen to someone and narrow our eyes, we’re indicating that we’re either evaluating what they’re saying and doubting its validity, or we don’t understand what they’re saying. Half-closed eyes can also indicate tiredness.
When we feel sexual desire the pupils dilate like we’ve mentioned before, which leaves us completely exposed to the other person. We can’t avoid it, so we usually rub our eyes because they get wet and we feel uncomfortable.
The expression “the eyes are windows to the soul” is based in truth. However, it goes much further than that. According to a study done by psychologists and other scientists from different branches of the study of human language, throughout our lives, up until we’re about 40 years old, we choose from a series of faces that we adapt to different, distinct communicative situations.
This has been called social face. For example, in sad moments when we feel the urge to laugh, our expression keeps its composure. On this subject, Teresa Baró stated that this doesn’t mean we’re liars, since we live in a society that demands certain patterns of behavior that we must maintain as a manner of survival.
We’re not liars because we can’t be. We can voluntarily make our facial expressions and movements more appropriate, but we can’t stop our eyes from reflecting how we feel.
When people are sad or worried, they furrow their brow, which makes the eyes look smaller. Yet when people are cheerful, we correctly call them “bright eyed.” That’s because people raise their eyebrows when they’re happy, making the eyes look bigger and brighter.
We can tell a true smile from a fake by looking at a person's eyes. The mouth shape of a smile is easy to fake, we do it all the time out of politeness. But the eyes are the giveaway: When we’re truly happy, we not only smile but also crinkle the corners of our eyes in a “crow’s feet” pattern. But when people fake a smile, they usually forget about their eyes.
If the eye is the window into the soul, the pupil is quite literally, an opening into the eye. The pupil acts like the aperture on a camera, dilating or contracting to regulate the amount of light coming into the eye. We all know that our pupils get smaller in the light and bigger in the dark. This is the pupillary light response.
There’s actually lot more to the pupillary light response than, well, meets the eye. They claim that the size of the pupils tells us a lot about the emotions and intentions of their owners.
According to the researchers, the pupillary light response isn’t just a mechanical reaction to ambient light. Rather, as we shift our gaze from one spot to another, our pupils adjust their size in advance to the amount of light we expect to encounter at the new location.
The pupillary light response is only one reason why the pupils change size. They also dilate when we’re aroused. The body has an alarm network called the autonomic nervous system that prepares us to take action whenever we detect a threat or an opportunity around us.
When encounter any danger your autonomic nervous system goes on alert. Your heart and breath rates increase, you begin to sweat as your muscles tense up, and, among other bodily reactions, your pupils dilate. The autonomic nervous system prepares your body to take action against the threat.
We also need to take action when we encounter opportunities. Meet an attractive person at a party, and what happens to your body? Your heart and breathing rates increase, you begin to sweat—and your pupils dilate.
Psychologists consider pupil dilation to be an honest cue to sexual or social interest. That’s because pupil size isn’t under your voluntary control. Let’s say you’re trying to fake interest as your coworker recounts every play in his weekend golf game. You can force a smile. You might even remember to crinkle the corners of your eyes, to make that smile look real. But your tiny pupils will reveal your lack of interest.
Arousal increases pupil size irrespective of the amount of ambient light present because optimal pupil size involves a trade-off between two factors. The first is visual acuity, or how well you can see the details of whatever you’re looking at. In this case, you need “Goldilocks” pupils—not too bright and not too dark, with just the right amount of light coming in. Thus, the pupillary light response is important for visual acuity.
The second factor is visual sensitivity, or how well you can detect something that’s in the environment. If you want to really see what’s out there, you need to have your eyes—especially your pupils—wide open. This is where the connection between arousal and pupil dilation comes in.
Psychologists consider pupil size in terms of the two functions of vision—exploration and exploitation. When we’re exploring our environments, we’re on the lookout for threats and opportunities, so we’re in a heightened state of arousal. Visual sensitivity is most important in exploration, so our pupils are wide open, taking in as much visual information as possible.
Once we’ve identified an object of interest and have it under our control, we shift to exploitation mode: We need to examine the item carefully to find all the ways we can use it, to understand it as fully as possible. Now, visual acuity is most important, and our pupils dilate or contract so that just the right amount of light comes in.
The so-called pupillary light response isn’t just a mechanical reaction to the amount of ambient light, as is the aperture on a camera. Instead, the pupils also adjust according to our emotions and expectations. Thus, the eyes may be the windows to the soul, but the pupils tell a lot about what’s going on in the mind of another person.