Eye Color Affects Trustworthiness?
October 6, 2013

Eye Color Affects Trustworthiness?

Picture your favorite villain, the character that makes you shudder each time they appear on screen. Perhaps it’s the Joker, Lord Voldemort, Hannibal Lecter, the Green Goblin, maybe Emperor Palpatine. (If you don’t know that last one, brush up on your Star Wars). Which of their physical characteristics comes to mind first? Is it the disfigured face, gravelly voice, or haunting eyes? What, exactly, gives that aura of creepiness that all great villains possess?

Whether we like it or not, we consciously and subconsciously assess others based on their appearance. It has been shown that facial appearance influences a variety of social interactions. These assessments allow us to recognize known faces, distinguish between friends and enemies, and make useful observations.

One of those observations is trustworthy or untrustworthy. The amygdala, an almond shaped structure in the brain, has been shown to aid in this evaluation process. An individual’s perceived trustworthiness influences their economic, social, and reproductive success. Perceived untrustworthiness has been correlated with perceived level of anger. Think back to the first example, when was the last time your favorite villain was adorably happy?

Considering what we know about facial observations, it seems logical to ask what facial features factor into these assessments. Researchers at Charles University in Prague decided to investigate whether or not eye color influences perceived trustworthiness.

In order to do this, they used photos of 80 university students (40 males and 40 females). The photos contained individuals with non-smiling expressions in front of a white background. Each of the photos was adjusted so that the person within it had brown eyes. Researchers then showed these photos to participants and asked them to rate the photos on a scale of 1-10 in regards to perceived trustworthiness, dominance, and attractiveness.

The eyes of the people in the photos were then recolored to blue. A second group of participants was asked to rate this set of photos on a scale of 1-10 in regards to perceived trustworthiness, dominance, and attractiveness. Following the rating process, each of the faces within the photos was measured. The facial width-to-height ratio was calculated.

After this data was collected, it was found that eye color significantly influenced perceived trustworthiness. The brown-eyed photos were consistently rated “more trustworthy” than the blue-eyed photos. This was the same for both males and females.

However, after further analysis of facial width-to-height ratios, researchers found that it was likely the face shape linked with brown eyes that was perceived as more trustworthy. The eye color was linked to the face shape, but it was the not cause of the perception.

So, I hate to break it to you, but colored contacts will not make you more or less creepy. Creepiness is likely judged by bone structure and location of facial features. An interesting question, do people who are perceived as “untrustworthy” by their peers learn to play into those stereotypes?

Perhaps our classic villains were simply misunderstood children with misfortunate bone structures. Because others were convinced that they were untrustworthy, they chose evil occupations.

Image Credit: digitalconsumator / Shutterstock

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