What do your eyes reveal about who you are?

Everyone has heard the saying “the eyes are the windows to the soul”. It’s been so overused in advertising and daily speech that it’s almost lost all meaning.

But like most cliches, there’s a reason it has stuck around in the public consciousness. Mentioned in the bible in Matthew 6 22-23, and being very similar to proverbs in several languages, such as the French, ‘Les yeux sont le miroir de l’dme’, “The eyes are the mirror of the soul”, the saying bears a lot of truth about how the body works and how we communicate our state of mind.

Without even thinking about it too much, we know that eye contact is one of the biggest factors in making a first impression and connecting with someone. In fact, research has shown that it can take as little as 8.2 seconds of eye contact to fall in love with someone.

Our eyes are moving so often and so fast that it would be impossible to be conscious of everything they get up to. While you are reading this, for example, your eyes are making a series of very quick movements called saccades as they fixate rapidly on one word after the other.

Contrast this to when you enter a busy cafe, and your eyes make large sweeping saccades as you gaze around the room. Most of these movements are voluntary, but then there are the small, involuntary movements that happen, for example, when you are walking along to stabilise your view of the world, or in the dream phase of sleep known as ‘rapid eye movement’ (REM).

So, it’s clear the eyes have a lot to tell us simply through their study and observation, and that they may be the closest thing to a mirror or window to “the soul”. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what modern science has to say about how your eyes reveal your thought process and offer a glimpse into who you are.

When it comes to pupils, size matters

One of the biggest indicators of your state of mind and most significant forms of non-verbal communication, whether you’re aware of it or not, is your pupil size.

For instance, in 2014 researchers studied how pupil size was affected by decision making. What they found was that the degree of certainty you feel when making a decision is linked to how little or how much your pupils dilate.

When you’re unsure about something, you feel heightened alertness. This heightened alertness is what causes your pupils to dilate in order to allow in more light and keep you on high alert for potential threats or information you may have missed.

Changes in the pupil may also reveal the actual decision you’re going to make. Another group of researchers, for example, found that watching the pupil size for dilation allowed them to predict when a cautious person—someone used to saying ‘no’—was about to make a tricky decision and say ‘yes’.

Of course, pupil dilation is not all about decision making and is also associated with other things going on in the body. For instance, along with medications and physical trauma, there is a physiological response to both excitement and love that causes the pupils to dilate. It’s not a reliable marker of whether or not someone shares feelings for you, though, as excitement on a physiological level could mean the presence of fear or other not so desirable emotions.

Sticking to results that are scientific and replicable, some researchers have found that watching the eyes can offer an even greater insight into your mind.

One study at the University of Zurich involved tracking the eye movements of twelve volunteers while they read a list of forty numbers. A part from more than a few droopy eyelids, the researchers found that, after a while of doing this, they could accurately predict whether the number they were about to say was bigger or smaller than the previous one—as well as by how much.

The direction and size of the participants’ eye movements are what gave away the size of number they were going to say. Typically, when their gaze shifted up and to the right, they were going to say a bigger number, and if it was down to the left, they were going to say a smaller number. The bigger the shift from one side to the other, the bigger the difference between the numbers.

So they may not reveal your innermost desires and the essence of your soul, but such findings show the eyes reveal much more than we give them credit for. And by revealing such insights about the eyes, scientists are discovering how their movements, health, and behaviour can influence our lives.

For instance, one group of researchers found that when you focus your eyes on an object twelve to eighteen inches away, your brain wave activity and heartbeat decreases. When your brain activity and heartbeat decreases, you reduce tension and allow for greater mental clarity. When you reduce tension and allow for greater mental clarity, well, who knows what you can do and what your eyes may reveal.

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