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What Do Dilated Pupils Mean?

By: Libby Pelham BA - Updated: 2 Jan 2018 | comments*Discuss
Pupils Dilation Dilated Pupils Sexual

It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but is it true? Could the eyes really be a portal that reveals true feelings about another? When attracted to another, there are some things that can be controlled, but pupil dilation is not one of them.

Pupil dilation can occur during many different settings. When you enter a dark cinema, your pupils will automatically dilate to let more light in. Some drugs will cause pupil dilation as well.

Bedroom Eyes

Another thing that causes pupil dilation is physical or psychological pleasure. When someone finds another person or thing attractive, the pupils dilate. In turn, that dilation is often found attractive by others. This is sometimes referred to as 'bedroom eyes' because of its sexual connotation. Conversely, if totally turned off by a person, the pupils may slightly contract. We may subconsciously use these pupil measurements to judge whether we like someone else or not.

Pupillometrics: Pupil Size and Emotion

The study of pupil size as an indicator of emotion is known as pupillometrics. It was Eckhard Hess, a University of Chicago biopsychologist, who first used this term back in 1975. Hess has said he became interested in the study of pupils and dilation one night while in bed. He was looking through a book of 'strikingly beautiful' animal photos. His wife noted how big his pupils were and commented the light must be low, but Hess assured her there was plenty of light.

The next day, he went to his lab and tested assistant James Polt with several photos of landscapes and one of a pin-up girl. Hess held the photos up to his head so he couldn’t see them, but noted that Polt’s pupils dilated when he saw the photo of the pin-up. The two embarked on their research on the subject after that.

Hess Studies

In one of the studies they conducted, they showed men two sets of photographs of women.
  • In set one - the pupils of each woman had been enlarged.
  • In set two - the pupils of each woman had been reduced

The men preferred the enlarged pupil

Results showed that the men preferred the photos of the women with the enlarged pupil, even though the men could not explain why those were their favourites. When the test was performed on a group of women, the results were the same.

Further Studies by Hess et Al

Hess, Seltzer, and Shlien later performed a similar study on homosexual men. When showed photos of men, their pupils dilated more than when they were shown pictures of women. Some, however, argue with Hess’s claim that when an unpleasant stimulus is presented, the pupils of the subjects constrict.

Edinburgh University Study: Ovulating Women

A study at Edinburgh University showed that women who are ovulating are more attracted to men with large pupils. Women subjects who were about to start their menstrual cycle were shown three pictures of men – one with large pupils, one with medium sized pupils, and one with small pupils. The majority of women chose the man with large pupils. Because of these findings, the research deduced that women who are about to ovulate associate large, dilated pupils with sexual interest.

Creating the Mood

You cannot control pupil dilation, but when in a romantic setting, the mood can definitely be set for love. A reduction of light causes the pupils to dilate. That is why when people think of romantic restaurants, they usually think of ones with soft light and candles.

Pupil Dilation Does Not Always Indicate Sexual Interest

While it is likely that pupil dilation is a sign of sexual interest, it is not true 100% of the time. Dilated pupils can also happen when:
  • Women look at photographs of babies
  • When a hungry study subject sees an appetising dinner
So the dilation doesn’t always mean sexual attraction.

Other Eye Indications

So, we've seen that dilation of the pupils could be an indication of attraction but not always. What other signs might we look for to glean an idea of what someone is thinking or feeling? Read more about what the eyes tell us here.

If you are interested in the subject of pupil dilation and sexual atraction you might also like to take a look at Decoding Body Language in Intimate Relationships or our Questionnaire - How To Tell If Someone Likes You.

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[Add a Comment]
Can you tell me what it means when the eyes are constantly dilated? Even when in bright light and the person is calm? , but in anger they dilate even more so almost black and when communicating the eyes show no focus.Absolutely no drugs or medication is involved in this case. I'm not yet able to access chronological report but to me it's screaming post brain trauma, could this be the case??? Any help would be greatfuly received. Many thanks??
Hunny - 2-Jan-18 @ 12:13 AM
completely agree that pupil dialation is not always sexual, i can feel when my own eyes do it sometimes and it can be for example at family friends and/or people have cared about over lifetime bit is most certainly not necessarily a sexual thing.
Anneka Evans - 13-Nov-17 @ 12:44 AM
Very interesting, and clearly explained. If learned, it would be a great asset to have in your quiver.
VetteMan - 24-Apr-17 @ 3:00 PM
Hi, Thats a really confusing image you used to show the difference between the undiluted and dilated pupil.You show the pupil to be the same size in both states. What you have done is increased the size of the iris in the dilated image instead of the pupil.
Costas - 13-Nov-16 @ 3:00 PM
Ciara, if you are intelligent, you'll end up doing "drugs". There is a negative connotation to them, but they are life changing. I don't mean heroin, meth, coke. Keep your mind open and also.. If you have ever taken a pain killer or Motrin.. Then you have done drugs. Alcohol being one of the worst drugs by far
Bobdop - 28-Sep-16 @ 3:15 PM
I had this experience before way back in college. My classmates were in a cottage and one of them started singing while playing his guitar. I love his voice and I kept begging him to not stop singing whenever strangers would pass by. And then, my friend told me that my eyes were sparkling.... Anyway, does menstruation has something to do with dilation of eyes? There was this one time I excused myself from my class and walked home, not feeling well, I was breaking in cold sweat and it was hard to breath...and then everything seemed so bright around me.
Rain - 29-Aug-16 @ 2:49 PM
Not 100% positive but your son could have ADHD or ADD because growing up I had the same exact problem and they diagnosed me with ADHD and they put me on a medicine called Concerta I'm 29 now and not but I have it under control and I can't stay on task and now but when I was growing up I had a hard time so if I had to guess and like I said I'm not a medical professional but I would say ADHD or ADD
Adam - 30-Jul-16 @ 3:28 AM
Wow!This is true! Haha!I experienced this today at school. A guy I'm falling for took me out for lunch and at the table he tells me about something so I turn to look at him and focus on his eyes with interest. At that exact moment his pupils enlarged! Now I know why!
Uno - 26-Jul-16 @ 10:50 AM
Yesterday i bought a dress and went to show it to a male best friend. He just froze and looked at me and i noticed his pupils were dilated and i got really freaked out...the dress wasnt short or tight or provocative in any way.
kyla - 9-May-16 @ 7:08 AM
Tim - Your Question:
Curious why "The men preferred the enlarged pupil" is highlighted in blue, who cares? The women were briefly mentioned at the end saying they agreed. Why the emphasis on what men prefer? Who cares.

Our Response:
That's just what the experiment was about. We don't have any information on the "reverse" experiment sorry
BodyLanguageExpert - 3-May-16 @ 10:21 AM
Curious why "The men preferred the enlarged pupil" is highlighted in blue, who cares?The women were brieflymentioned at the end saying they agreed.Why the emphasis on what men prefer?Who cares.
Tim - 2-May-16 @ 12:55 AM
At school most of my friends say my eyes are black even though they are brown. One day when I went home I found my pupils to be so enlarged that there was only a thin ring of my brown iris showing. The lighting was normal and I have no visual impairments so I was curious.
Jinxy - 23-Apr-16 @ 11:33 PM
I want to start off by saying I'm a straight A student and have never done drugs in my life and never will but I was getting yelled at by my parents one night and my pupils were somewhat dialated. My mom is questioning me about drugs but like I said I would never do that so what could it be and what should I do?
Ciara - 8-Apr-16 @ 6:49 PM
my son has constantly had enlarged pupils and gets anger and frustration at the slightest thing, this has been happening for about 2 years now and his temperament is getting to be far more aggressive and very erratic, he is 13 years old, he gets very bored and is easily thrown off task and has a hard time focusing at school. can you please tell me if there is any other medical condition that may be associated with his symptoms as it is putting an almost unbearable strain on us as a family. thank you christi
feeling lost - 18-Mar-16 @ 1:40 AM
Can you send me picture of your eyes so i know how they look
pearly worldly - 12-Mar-16 @ 7:46 AM
Nana- Your Question:
My grandson came home late from school 4 hours late his pupils where really big his have never been like this what could it mean

Our Response:
it could be the result of many things, but you might want to question him on his whereabouts to eliminate the possibility of drug use etc.
BodyLanguageExpert - 16-Feb-16 @ 11:53 AM
My grandson came home late from school 4 hours late his pupils where really big his have never been like this what could it mean
Nana - 13-Feb-16 @ 5:35 PM
little- Your Question:
I had a accident in my job an electrical one my pupils are dilated all the time my face and hands got burned pretty bad but I notice that my pupils are very enlarge why does this happen.

Our Response:
This sounds like a medical problem which you should get checked out by a professional.
BodyLanguageExpert - 6-Jan-16 @ 12:14 PM
I had a accident in my job an electrical one my pupils are dilated all the time my face and hands got burned pretty bad but I notice that my pupils are very enlarge why does this happen.
little - 5-Jan-16 @ 10:41 PM
Mrs. C, Have him tested for Sensory Integration Disorder.
Ally - 1-Jan-16 @ 7:59 AM
Since I was a child I always have had dialled pupils they are generally always enlarged unless it is really bright but they stay bigger than normal people assume I'm on drugs but I'm really not is this a medical condition
Slh - 18-Nov-15 @ 3:03 AM
davinciPierce - Your Question:
I am totally agree with the article. Dilated pupils can be considered as sexual interest. like mentioned as above, the restaurants use reduced light, so the couples's pupils will dilated and look each other sexually while dinning. Thanks for the article.

Our Response:
Glad you liked it.
BodyLanguageExpert - 17-Aug-15 @ 2:18 PM
I am totally agree with the article. Dilated pupils can be considered as sexual interest. like mentioned as above, the restaurants use reduced light, so the couples's pupils will dilatedand look each other sexually while dinning. Thanks for the article.
davinciPierce - 17-Aug-15 @ 7:48 AM
My eyes get dialated when I drip juice
Pussyjuice - 13-Aug-15 @ 1:53 AM
Hi, can you send me the article (or tell me the title) in wich Hess shows women' pictures with and without dilated pupils? Thanks
EarlGreyMD - 15-Jul-15 @ 3:10 PM
Well, I like this guy and we go to the same pool and I'm going to see if this works to see if he is attracted to me ????
Guysrhot - 25-Jun-15 @ 9:53 PM
So its safe to say that when I caught a girl looking into my eyes she is very attracted to me because when we locked eyes her pupils enlarged so freaking much! And I'm sure mine did too!
Idontknow - 29-May-15 @ 10:31 PM
I'm having eye surgery and was worried when it said that they would dilate my eyes now that I have read this article I feel a lot more reassured that the surgery will be successful.
jamie - 30-Apr-15 @ 8:59 PM
@coptions. That could be an interesting discussion - whether desire is in fact negative because it somehow "controls" us to some extent and weakens some aspects of our repsonse system?
BodyLanguageExpert - 26-Aug-14 @ 12:02 PM
Dr David Hawkins in his excellent books on the use of kinesiology reports that pupils dilate as the muscles go weak when faced with negative emotions. I immediately questioned why the pupils do so when we are attracted to another person. After some thought I came to the conclusion that as Dr Hawkins suggests that desire is still a negative energy according to his map of conscientiousness perhaps that explains that?
Coptions - 25-Aug-14 @ 10:27 PM
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