Anyone who has experienced the sensation of locking eyes across a room with someone interesting knows that mutual gaze can be a powerful force. How powerful? It must be the force behind the idea that it is possible to fall in love ‘at first sight’. An attractive face can turn heads, but it’s not nearly enough. However, when eyes lock, something dramatically different happens. Just how powerful this is may surprise you.
One example is a set of experiments conducted by psychologist Ekhard Hess, who wanted to find out whether dilated pupils had any effect on a person looking at them. He presented male volunteers with a variety of pictures, one of which was an attractive woman. In fact, she appeared twice in the set, once with her pupils retouched to be highly dilated, another time with her pupils normal size. He found that a significant proportion of the time the men judged the version with the dilated pupils to be more attractive, although none of them was actually aware of the pupils themselves.
But why? Hess performed other experiments that showed that our pupils dilate if we’re looking at something or someone interesting. In one set of experiments, he had people who were hungry view images of random objects, including slices of very delicious looking cake. Whenever the hungry people saw food items like the cake, their pupils dilated. If they weren’t hungry, the cake had no effect. So dilated pupils signify interest. If a man then looks into the eyes of a woman, and her pupils are dilated, he senses that she is interested in him. So, flattered, albeit unconsciously, he returns that interest.