It's often been said that the eyes are the windows into the human soul. Well, a new study out of New York suggests there might be a great deal scientific evidence to back up that age-old saying.
600 Americans participated in this recent study at Cornell University's prestigious College of Human Ecology. Every volunteer was asked to identify the emotional state of another just by looking at a picture of someone else's eyes. In total, participants could choose from 50 different emotional states.
The researchers discovered that most participants were able to accurately choose the emotional states portrayed in the pictures of other people's eyes. The top six emotions participants identified correctly included disgust, joy, anger, sadness, surprise, and fear. Dr. Daniel H. Lee, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado, designed all of the pictures used in this study.
Cornell professors also looked into whether or not wrinkles around the eyes or furrowed temples had any correlation with a person's emotional state. They found that narrowed eyes were generally linked with negative emotions like disgust, whereas more open eyes suggested higher sensitivity and emotions like awe or surprise.
Adam Anderson, an associate professor of human ecology at Cornell, was the lead researcher on this project. When asked to explain the findings from his research, Dr. Anderson told reporters that, "Expressive changes around the eye influence how we see and, in turn, communicates to others how we think and feel." Andersen's study simply proves what religious sages and poets have been telling humanity for ages about the eyes connection to inner emotional states.
Just to be sure their results were valid, Cornell researchers also tested out whether or not participants could correctly identify emotions by looking at pictures of the lips and nose. Everyone involved in this study found it more difficult to pick the correct emotional states in these nose and lips studies.
Interestingly, these findings are in line with the famous 19th century biologist Charles Darwin's musings on human facial expressions. During the Victorian Era, Darwin wrote that our facial expressions are more of a sensory function than a means of communication. Of course, Darwin is best known for his 1859 text On the Origin of Species that put forward the theory of human evolution.
Andersen's findings in this most recent study are in line with his 2013 work on human facial expressions. In that work, Andersen found that expressions such as raising the eyebrows most likely evolved as an adaptive response to the environment rather than a cue for social communication.
Andersen is hopeful that this research will help various fields of study such as psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience. He believes Cornell's study could help us all become more aware of other's emotions and communicate with more honesty and sincerity everyday.