I Spy with My Little Eye…

BriarI swear, every time I start writing a Mad Art Lab photo post, I always get sucked into a swirling vortex of amazing science or crazy claims. This week about “eyes” will be no different.

I was going to start this post off with the quote, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” so I typed it into Google to see who coined the phrase and I was left with the impression that no one quite knows for sure who came up with this particular saying. While I was perusing the search results, two articles caught my eye (pun!). One said, “Eyes May Really Be the Window to the Soul“, while the other said, “Our Souls are in Our Eyes, Psychologists Claim“.

Something about the articles’ titles really set off my skepticism alarm. I mean, really? Seriously? Argh. Okay, I realize that I am prejudging these articles just by their titles, so I need to stop, reverse course a bit, and give these studies a fair shake and not judge them by the title the journalists gave to the articles. The interesting thing is that the articles are about two separate studies.

Let’s see here, from “Eyes May Really Be the Window to the Soul” :

Larsson took photos of 428 volunteers’ eyes and administered a standard personality test. He then counted the frequency of crypts (squiggly lines radiating out from the pupil) and furrows (circular lines curving around the outer edge of the iris). He found that a low frequency of crypts was significantly associated with tender-mindedness, warmth, trust, and positive emotions, whereas more distinct and extended furrows were associated with impulsiveness. {sidenote: to observe the “crypts” and the “furrows” he speaks of, Daily Mail has an article containing a picture showing examples}


Hmmm. So, they’re telling me that I can read how someone’s personality might be just by looking deeply into their eyes? Wrong:

Still, cautions Larsson, looking deep into people’s eyes won’t give you irrefutable insight into their personality. “We’ve only looked at group effects,” he says. “It’s not possible to describe an individual’s personality from our data.”

So we can apply this “test” to a gathered group of people, but not individuals…at least not yet. The Daily Mail article states, “They say the findings could one day be used in psychoanalysis and by companies screening candidates for jobs.” Like I’ve mentioned in another post, being impulsive has lead to the propagation of humanity, so it’s not necessarily bad. I wish people would stop acting like those who are impulsive need to be stopped.

The Daily Mail also quoted the scientists as saying, “Differences in the iris can be used as a biomarker that reflects differences between people.” I’m not quite sure what to think about assigning how neurotic someone is or how much you should trust them based on their iris.

The scientist behind the study believes that the cause of the iris/personality link is because of the the gene, PAX6. PAX6 is responsible for iris development and mutations in this gene have been linked to brain abnormalities and/or impulse control issues.


The other study was a bit sillier, in my humble opinion. To quote the article:

In three experiments, the researchers probed preschoolers’ and adults’ intuitions about the precise location of the self in the body. The participants were shown pictures of cartoon characters, and in each picture a small object (a buzzing fly or snowflake) was positioned near a different section of the character’s body (face or torso or feet, etc.), always at the same distance away.

The study participants were then asked which pictures showed the object closest to the body, the hypothesis being that people would interpret the object as closest when it was near what they intuitively believed to be the soul’s location.

Okay, so something that bothers me is the last sentence saying that people interpreted objects being closest to the body when they are near the soul. Where did they even come up with that idea?

Let me get this straight: because cartoon characters have a fly in front of their eyes, that tells us where people believe souls are, but not because that’s what the participants were asked directly. Remember, they were asked to point to where the object seemed closest to the character, but the scientists hypothesized it was actually where they believed the soul was. I find this hypothesis strange on the scientists part.

They bring up the fact that during the study even when a green alien with eyes on it’s chest was shown with the object in front of its eyes, that people chose that picture despite the chest not containing a brain (as you’ll find out later in my post, this option was actually only chosen by the adults, while the children still chose the head of the alien). So, that’s proof that people don’t believe the soul is in the brain, but in the eyes…right, people?

If you’re a tad confused, take a look at the test to see it for yourself; I think the scientists enlisted the illustrators over at South Park to draw the cartoons for them.


The article gives the other side’s arguments, which have to do with the fact that etiquette tells us to make eye contact and the part of our brain that provides self-awareness is situated right behind our eyes. Another point from the article:

Burton, former chief of the division of neurology at University of California, San Francisco-Mount Zion Hospital, said the most interesting result of the study seems to have been brushed under the rug by the researchers: It is that the 4-year-olds and adults didn’t actually give the same responses during the experiment with the alien cartoon character. Almost as many children thought the buzzing fly was closest to the alien when it was near his eyeless head than when it was near his eye-bearing chest. Meanwhile, the adults almost unanimously selected the chest-eyes. “This suggests that something has transpired during the time between age 4 and adulthood that affects our understanding of the identity of other people,” Burton said.

I personally feel that most people chose the pictures with the object in front of the eyes because something in front of your eyes is annoying. If I have a bee buzzing around my chest or feet, I’m freaked out a bit, but can walk away calmly. If I have a bee buzzing directly in front of my eyes, that bee has crossed a line and invaded my personal space at that point. I am freaked out and feel like I’m in danger. We SEE with our eyes, so the objects are closest when they are by our eyes and not our “souls“.

The whole point of my post was going to be about genetics and eye color, but I went on a skeptical tangent. ‘Tis the life of a skeptical photographer. I’ll leave genetics for another day.

Gigi Chickee

All photos are taken by me, Gigi Chickee, unless otherwise noted. Photography Correspondent here at Mad Art Lab. Wife to my gorgeous husband, Rob. Mother to my four girls. Proud Secular Homeschooler. Photographer when the occasion arises. Seamstress in training. Skeptic always. Follow me and my musings on Twitter: @gigichickee

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button