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Connections Between the Eyes, Expression, & Empathy

A recent Dartmouth study suggests that the pupilsare strong indicators as to whether a person is engaged in a conversation or not. The study suggests that listeners are most likely to tune in when a speaker delivers the most impactful peaks of the story or lecture, as revealed by “synchronous pupil dilation patterns of speakers and listeners due to shared attention” (source).

Windows into the Soul

Pupils dilate naturally for many reasons, such as to adjust the amount of light entering the eye. They also dilate quickly in response to information that the brain is processing, which is why your eyes are “windows” that show what a person is thinking and feeling. While previous studies have measured how the pupils react to recalling information, this study measures engagement in “real-time by evaluating a physiological response or in this case, pupil dilations, which cannot be faked or controlled consciously.”

The Impact of Empathy

The study revealed that listeners with both high and low empathy mostly tuned in for the climax of the story, but listeners with high empathy tuned in for longer periods. Empathetic reactions were more likely to be produced when the speaker was highly expressive.

The study currently builds on earlier findings that demonstrate how pupil dilation patterns reflect the contents of consciousness or what one pays attention to. The Dartmouth team plans to investigate the findings of this recent study on “pupillary synchrony” further.


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