Beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder, it’s in the eye

Yes, maybe it’s true that there are differing opinions on who we think of as attractive. Indeed, some people think Simon Cowell is good looking. Still cant get my head around that one,  but I digress. Yes, people have their own personal prefernces – blonde or brunette, brainy or brawny, etc.  However, numerous studies have shown that there are a significant number of traits that we all find attractive, no matter who we are. These include big eyes in women, big jaws in men, and symetrical faces (just think of Brad Pitt vs Steve Buscemi).  These features are all signal to potential partners of good genetic stock. A symmetrical face, for example, shows that you are able to fight off parasites, which can distort the normal development of the body.

Well, one more trait has been added to the list of  more-or-less universally attractive features – bright, white eyes. This part – the sclera – is made of tough fibres, protecting the eye from various assaults. This white canvas, however, is rather delicate, and can be stained dependent on various ailments one might suffer from. Yellow eyes, for example, can be caused by fat deposits as we age, or may be jaundice (a build up of bilirubin). Red eyes are caused by dilated blood vessels in the eye and can be symptomatic of anything from infection to allergy.  The study, published in the journal Ethology doctored 100 of pictures of eyes to make them appear bloodshot. Together with 100 healthy white eyes, the scientists asked people to rate the pictures on sadness, healthiness and attractiveness. Unsurprisingly, the white eyed folk did best on all three counts.

The sclera is an interesting part of the body to test beauty because it is something that humans have which we don’t share with our closest relatives – the chimpanzees. All non-human primates have brown or dark brown sclera. It is thought to be this colour (similar to the iris) so as to mask which direction you are looking. In humans, the eye seems to have gained a secondary function (besides preventing you bumping into things) – communication with others. As well as attractiveness, the white eye can signal gaze direction and emotion. Vital messages in an increasingly social species.