The color of someone’s eyes can enhance their beauty or attractiveness to others. But what about the white part of your eyes? Are they too, a factor?
Is beauty found in the white part of the eyes?
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A new study reveals that the opposite can also be true; research published in Ethology discovered that people with bloodshot eyes are considered sadder, unhealthier and less attractive than those with eyes that are untinted and clear.
“Red, ‘bloodshot’ eyes are prominent in medical diagnoses and in folk culture”, said lead author Dr. Robert R. Provine from the University of Maryland. “We wanted to know if they influence everyday behavior and attitudes of those who view them, and if they can affect perceptions of attractiveness.”
Your Emotional & Biological State
Bloodshot eyes occur when the tiny blood vessels of the conjunctiva membrane on the surface of the eye become enlarged and congested with blood, giving the familiar red tint to the underlying sclera, the “white” of the eyes. The color of the sclera is believed to be a general but important sign of a person’s emotional and biological state.
“If you met a friend with bloodshot eyes it may be unclear whether you should offer sympathy or medical assistance because red eyes may be a result of crying, allergic reaction or infectious diseases,” said Provine. “Findings from the researchers also suggest that red eyes prompt feelings of discomfort, ranging from increased monitoring of their own eyes to a hint of sympathetic tearing.”
In the initial empirical test to discover the perceptions and behavioral implications of red eyes, Dr. Provine’s team tested 208 volunteer students from the University of Maryland. The volunteers consisted of 115 women and 93 men, with an average age of 20.6 years.
The volunteers were shown 200 images of eyes, half with clear white sclera and half with sclera artificially tinted red by image enhancement. They were then asked how healthy, sad or attractive the owners of the eyes were. Their results revealed that people with reddened eyes appear sadder, less healthy, and less attractive compared to those with whiter, clear eyes.
Humans Stand Apart
This is the first study to demonstrate that eye redness is perceived as a cue of emotion. Humans appear to be the only species on earth which uses eye coloration as an indicator of either health or emotion. This is because other primates lack the background of white sclera required to make the reddened conjunctiva visible.
The sclera color provides a casual, quick estimate of emotional and health state to untrained observers of an individual and the study’s ratings of attractiveness suggest that this information does in fact, influence our behavior.
“Standards of beauty vary across cultures, however, youth and healthiness are always a leading factor because they are associated with reproductive fitness,” said Provine. “Traits such as long, lustrous hair and smooth or scar-free skin are cues of youth and offer the beholder a partial record of health.
Now eye whites join these traits as a universal standard for the perception of beauty and a cue of health and reproductive fitness. Given this discovery, eye drops that ‘get the red out’ can certainly be considered beauty aids.”
Provine. R, Cabrera. M, Brocato. N, Krosnowski. K, “When the Whites of the Eyes Are Red: A Uniquely Human Cue,” Ethology, March 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2011.01888.x
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