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What Do Dilated Pupils Mean?

By: Libby Pelham BA - Updated: 5 Jan 2016 | 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]
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
Dilated pupils can occur at many different state of minds,well i assume.I work at a chip packaging company and requires you do be at your fastest at all times and it feels like a sort of adrenaline took a hold of me and i discover after,that my eyes are very dilated.I understand cats use this and somewhat believe we can control ourselves to use this.
EdwardRosales - 9-Aug-14 @ 9:29 PM
OMG, I have been looking for proof of this for ages, thank you body language experts, we love you!
kylerawcliffe - 1-May-14 @ 9:18 AM
I'd like to know your answer to Mrs C's question above (29.11.2012), please. It is almost identical situation, slightly different age, but so similar that any light on the subject would be very welcome, thanks.
Curious - 18-Mar-14 @ 6:47 PM
hello i was wondering can anti-depressants make your pupils go very big? my friends and boyfriend thinks that am taking drugs, i mean am only 15 i wouldnt do something like that but can someone help me because my glasses just make them go bigger!:(
kitty - 14-Oct-13 @ 2:00 PM
Wow! Awesome facts to know!!!!! I never thought that pupils had something to do with emotion. Eyes, maybe, but not pupils!!! Wow! Love this article. 10/10 =D
firebirdleelee - 8-Mar-13 @ 11:29 AM
my son has constantly had enlarged pupils and suffers from bouts of anger and frustration at the slightest thing, this has been happening for about four years now and his temperament is getting to be far more aggressive and very erratic, he is 16 years old, he suffers from acute lack of concentration when asked to do anything at school and sometimes at home also, he has to be constantly monitored to get him to achieve any positive results, he has been tested for dislexia and adhd and does not have either condition, 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. regards mrs c
mrs c - 29-Nov-12 @ 5:40 PM
I loveeeeee to understand body language and emotional intelligence
Shee shee - 13-Aug-12 @ 5:18 PM
Interesting this article, I just saw someone very special that has beautiful eyes and when we got to see each other, I was making a statement about how happy I was to see his beautiful eyes again and surprisingly his pupils went so big that I was so impressed, now reading your article I'm really amazed!
4everyoung - 29-Aug-11 @ 2:16 AM
if a person comes in from the dark should their pupils belarge or small and if they are not sexual arroused what would be the reason for larger pupils
webb - 13-Apr-11 @ 10:50 PM
A very interesting article but how long does pupil dilation last when a sign of sexual attraction? A few seconds, when first spotting - the coveted object - or throughout the 'encounter'
keirawhite - 10-Apr-11 @ 6:18 AM
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