Pupil Dilation | Nonverbal Eye Cues

Are the eyes the windows to the soul? There is a significant amount of scientific evidence that helps us decode the eyes and the nonverbal eye cues. To the trained professional, the eyes reveal a person’s emotions, what a person is feeling. 

One way to decode the eyes, is to observe nonverbal eye cues, they “speak” through pupil size. Whether a person’s eyes are constricted or dilated can say a lot about their interest in what you are talking about or their feelings toward you. You may also be able to gauge when you are gaining or losing a person’s interest based on the change in the size of their pupils.

What Causes Eye Dilation?

There are both physiological and physical reasons for eyes to dilate. Obviously, the most common physical influence is light. When exposed to bright lights, pupils will contract. When in darker environments, the pupils will dilate. In this instance, the brain adjusts the size of the pupil to control how much light can enter the eye.

But the eyes also have a physiological response to stimuli that is caused by an emotional reaction. Therefore, reading eyes can reveal emotional reactions such as attraction, fear, and disgust. How dilated a person’s eyes are is easy to see, but it can be tricky to identify the feelings behind eye dilation and decode the eyes.

Decode the Eyes and Identify Emotions

Pupillometrics is the study of the size of the pupil. Research surrounding this area of study has been used to support consumer applications and unorthodox relationship advice.. But there are everyday benefits to reading the nonverbal eye cues. Three of the most common emotions linked to eye dilation are fear, pain and attraction.

Deer in the Headlight Eyes

Based on what we learned about the light’s effect on the pupil, one would suspect a deer’s eyes would be tightly constricted if staring into headlights. Yet, their eyes would actually be dilated. Why? Because of fear. Just like animals, people’s eyes dilate when they are afraid or nervous. People’s eyes often dilate when they are in a dentist’s chair, despite the bright light shining down on them, because of the fear of potential pain.

In most situations, it is easy to tell why a person’s eyes are dilated due to fear. For example, a person strapped into a rollercoaster is most likely scared of the ride. However, you cannot always and easily identify the cause of fear. A person being interrogated by the police, for instance, may have dilated eyes because they are scared that they got caught for their crime, or they may be scared they are being accused of a crime they didn’t commit. Both are very valid fears, but for completely different reasons.

Bedroom Eyes

The study of eye dilation was actually inspired by “bedroom eyes,” but not quite in the way you might think. When bio-psychologist, Eckhard Hess, was reading (yes, reading) in bed next to his wife, she noted that his eyes were dilated and suggested he didn’t have enough reading light. Knowing that he did indeed have enough light, he began to wonder what else could be causing his eyes to dilate. He realized there was a good chance the pictures he was looking at had something to do with it. The pictures were also not what you might think: beautiful photographs of animals. But “beauty” was the key and inspired an experiment.

The next day, Hess monitored his research assistant’s pupil size while he showed him several pictures of landscapes and one of a pin-up girl. When his assistant saw the photo of the pin-up girl, his eyes dilated. Thus began the study of pupillometrics.

Dilated eyes are often referred to as “bedroom eyes” because they are known to signify attraction. But it is important not to misinterpret them as meaning sexual arousal. Hess, for one, was attracted to beautiful photos of the animals, but not aroused by them (let’s hope). And though his assistant may have been sexually aroused by the pin-up girl, it is just as likely a heterosexual woman’s eyes would dilate when looking at the girl because she viewed the woman as attractive. Furthermore, people’s eyes are known to dilate when looking at a delicious meal. So the next time you’re on a date just because your companion pupils are dilated might not mean they are attracted to you, it might be the food!

Check-out: Is It Love? Dilated Pupils and 7 Other Signs to Watch For

In the Eye of the Beholder

Picture this: a man’s eyes dilate when approached by a woman holding an ice cream cone and walking her dog. Sure, the man could be attracted to the woman, but he could also be scared of the dog or have a hankering for some ice cream. When it comes to reading body language, it is important to consider more than one factor to understand the whole picture. Eye dilation al

one will not reliably tell you what a person is feeling.

To learn more about grasping the whole picture of nonverbal communication, body language and micro expressions can show you;

Check out NOW our Non-verbal Communication Workshop:


Key Takeaways

Understanding the language of the eyes goes beyond mere appearance; it delves into emotions.

Pupillometrics, the study of pupil size, uncovers hidden feelings.

While light influences dilation, emotions like fear, pain, and attraction also cause changes. Dilated eyes indicate fear, a reaction not always easily discerned.

Pupils widen in response to fear, making it a key indicator.

However, dilation doesn’t solely signal romantic interest; it can reflect various emotions, even a love for ice cream.

Reading nonverbal cues requires considering multiple factors, delving into the complex world of human expression beyond surface appearances.

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