Eyes trust you

written by Terry Robson


Eye colour fascinates us and it has fascinated us for a long time. It is a fascination that is played out in song: Van Morrison praised his “brown-eyed girl”; Elton John sang longingly, “Baby’s got blue eyes, like a clear blue sky on a blue, blue day.” The way we look is a signal, appealing to ancient hard-wired connections that others use to make decisions about us, and eye colour is part of that. In fact, a new study has shown that eye colour plays a role in deciding how trustworthy others will think you are, but the relationship between eye colour and trust is not a simple one.

The researchers simply asked a group of people to rate the trustworthiness of male and female faces. It was found that a majority of people found people with brown eyes to appear more trustworthy. This was true for both sexes, but particularly so for men.

So far it looks as though brown eyes are an indicator of a trustworthy character, but the plot gets thicker.

In a follow-up study, researchers showed people faces that were exactly the same dimensions and shape with only the eye colour differing. In this case, eye colour did not make any difference as to who were judged trustworthy. It appears then that face shape is the key. But why the link to brown eyes in the first study? The researchers found that it is because eye colours tend to go with certain face shapes.

They found that brown-eyed men generally have (and this is only a tendency, of course, and not true for all people) wider mouths with upward-pointing corners, wider chins, bigger eyes and eyebrows closer to each other. These are characteristics considered to be more trustworthy. Blue-eyed men, in contrast, tend to have smaller eyes and mouths with downward-pointing corners.

If this is all true though, why are there so many blue-eyed people in certain parts of the world like northern Europe? If blue-eyed men are not trustworthy that would surely count against them reproducing. The researchers answered this by saying that perhaps the striking colour of blue eyes gives them a benefit in sexual selection.

So people will be overwhelmed by the striking colour of blue eyes and forget that their potential mate lacks trustworthiness? Surely we human beings are a little deeper than that when it comes to selecting a mate, aren’t we?

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Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the editor-in-chief of WellBeing.