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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 22-Jul-11


Friday 22-July-11

Brown eyed dominance

Does eye colour affect how you interact with the world? It seems so, according to a study by Karel Kleisner and colleagues where 32 men and 32 women rated the dominance and/or attractiveness of photos of forty men and forty women (all Caucasian,with a neutral expression).

The curious result was that men with brown eyes were rated consistently as more dominant than those with blue eyes. No eye colour effect was found for the photos of women. Interestingly also, eye colour did not correlate with attractiveness ratings, which goes against the classic 'blue-eyed' metaphor and indicates perhaps how eyes are only one part of a complex attractiveness model.

The researchers then wondered 'Is it just the eyes that do it?' To check this out they used Photoshop to make the brown-eyed men's eyes blue, and the blue-eyed men's eyes brown. To their surprise, in a repeat experiment (with new participants) the same men (originally brown-eyed) were still rated as more dominant! What this implies is that brown eyes do not affect dominant appearance but that other facial features that co-occur with brown eyes are to blame.

Further analysis found that the brown-eyed men tended to have broader, bigger chins, bigger noses, eyes closer together, and larger eye-brows than the blue-eyed men, making it seem likely that some or all of these create the dominant appearance. The researchers noted that wider faces also give the appearance of dominance and that cute blue-eyed boys might be mollycoddled for longer.

So is there an actual connection between the appearance of dominance and actual dominance? The research didn't go this far, but one might assume that there must be some truth in the heuristics and instincts, although there is a confounding factor of the self-fulfilling prophesy where if I see you as dominant, I respond to you as if you are dominant and so you respond by being more dominant.

We can also guess that other factors are at play, for example that bigger features gives the impression of a face being closer to you and hence feeling more threatening. Eyes closer together is interesting too. 'Wide-eyed' is typical of children and innocents, whilst 'narrowing eyes' signals suspicion and threat. Perhaps related is that our zone of visual focus is rather small and eye close together can more easily both be seen, looking at us. These may seem small things but such subtlety can have powerful subconscious effects.

Kleisner, K., Kočnar, T., Rube?ov? A., & Flegr, J. (2010). Eye color predicts but does not directly influence perceived dominance in men. Personality and Individual Differences, 49 (1), 59-6

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