By Dr. Mercola
Your definition of beauty is likely strongly influenced by society. In one example of how society influences your perception of beauty, an image of a woman was sent to designers in 18 countries. They were told: "The idea is to Photoshop and retouch this woman to make her more attractive to the citizens of your country."1 What returned were 18 different images, some so different they didn't resemble the original picture at all.
The perception of beauty and body image is influenced by the media as well.2 Cultural perceptions of beauty are linked to sexual appeal and social status. A $445 billion industry3 has grown around providing products and services to help women look and feel more beautiful as they compare to their societies' standard of beauty.
The Science of Physical Appeal
The study of human reaction to specific images uses aesthetics and neurophysiology to evaluate responses.4 Using physiological data from event-related brain potentials and functional MRI tests may give scientists a brief look at the elements people find appealing. The importance of finding factors that influence the perception of beauty drives an industry whose financial growth depends on discovering the right combination of products that may enhance those factors. In 1756, philosopher Edmund Burke wrote:5
"We must conclude that beauty is, for the greater part, some quality in bodies, acting mechanically upon the human mind by the intervention of the senses."
Scientists continue to study what others believe make people attractive or beautiful. What they are using are particular patterns of brain activity that are evident no matter what country you're from. Facial symmetry has been well studied and most research demonstrates that regardless of your country of origin, symmetrical faces tend to be rated as more attractive to others.6 In a recent study, scientists discovered your limbal ring may be another factor in determining beauty.7
Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder
There is no getting around the fact that in today's society, those who are more attractive are judged more favorably.8 Many factors play into how attractive another person finds you, such as clothing, how you carry yourself, and body size and shape. But none of those factors are greater than the first impression you make with your face. Even babies respond more positively to attractive faces.9
When asked, some have an eye color preference when considering a romantic partner. However, it may not be the color that is so attractive, but the limbal ring that encircles the iris or colored part of the eye. In many that ring is most noticeable in light colored eyes, such as blue, green or hazel. The opacity of this ring fluctuates in the eye and without realizing it you may use this as an indicator of how healthy a person is and therefore, how attractive that person is.10
This ring is darkest when you're healthy and appears to fade as you age. Research psychologist Mitch Brown, Ph.D., and Donald Sacco, Ph.D., from the University of Southern Mississippi, set out to determine the extent to which this ring influences the perception of attractiveness in short- and long-term partners. Using images of faces that were digitally altered to remove or include a limbal ring, hundreds of men and women were asked to rank the images.
The researchers split the testing into three different areas. In the first experiment, the participants judged the people with limbal rings as healthier and therefore, more desirable. This effect was stronger in women than men. The presence of the ring was more important when evaluating a person for a short-term relationship but not a consideration for a long-term partner. The second and third experiments yielded similar results.11
This study confirmed the results of a similar experiment during which the scientists measured how much the presence of the limbal ring influenced facial attractiveness.12 In this study the researchers evaluated the participant's reaction to upright and inverted faces, and found even in the inverted position the participants were more attracted to those images with a darker limbal ring.
Eyes Are the Windows to Trust
As the Roman philosopher Cicero once said, "The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter." When you pay attention, the eyes provide a lot of information about the emotional state of the person across from you.13 When you're worried, your brows furrow, making your eyes look smaller. When you're happy, your eyebrows raise unconsciously, making them appear larger and sparkle giving you a "bright-eyed" appearance.
Smiling is another facial expression that is interpreted by your eyes. When the smile is genuine it reaches from your lips to your eyes, as the corners of your eyes crinkle. Sometimes, when people are smiling to be polite they forget their eyes and the smile appears strange, or fake.
Your pupils also respond to emotions and anticipated actions, and not just a mechanical reflex to the amount of light in the room. In one study, researchers found the pupillary response of the subjects began changing in response to the anticipation of how much light might be where the eyes would be focused and not in response to the change of light.
For instance, when staring at a computer screen your pupils are smaller to let in less light. However, when you glance down at the keyboard or over the top of the screen your pupils begin changing in response to how much light your brain anticipates will be in the environment. Your pupils also involuntarily dilate when you are aroused, whether that arousal is attraction or the trigger of a fight or flight response.14
Researchers have found specific eye characteristics that play a role in how much you trust someone, even when you are seeing digital images.15 In one study,16 participants played a game with a virtual partner during which they ranked their level of trust. Trust was rated higher when the virtual partner's pupils were dilated and lower for those whose pupils were constricted. The scientists also observed the participant's pupils mimicked the partner's pupil dilation.
Another study from Dartmouth,17 using MRI images, looked at the response in the brain's amygdala to dilated pupils. The amygdala is a structure in the brain associated with fear, pleasure and other emotions. The researchers found that while the participants were not aware of the pupil size difference in the images they viewed, their amygdala responded with more activity when they viewed an image with dilated pupils.
How Can You Use This Knowledge?
Pupillary dilation has been one measurement marketers have used to gauge the response of consumers to advertising. However, while it helped marketing companies estimate the amount of arousal from the ad, they were unable to discern if the viewer was amused, angered or found the subject in the image attractive.
While you are unable to control your pupillary responses, you can consciously evaluate those in the people with whom you're speaking and may maintain eye contact in the hope your pupils will mimic theirs and thus engender greater trust from your companion.18
Your Phospholipid Levels May Be Evident in Your Eyes
As you age, the dark limbal ring around your iris may naturally fade. However, researchers from the current study warn this fading may also be related to elevated phospholipid levels.19 The medical term for when the ring becomes significantly lighter, and potentially even gray, is arcus senilis.
Arcus senilis20 may begin as an arc that appears above and/or below the outer portion of the cornea. The arc eventually completes the circle around your iris and is fairly common in people over the age of 60. Scientists believe it may be related to the deposition of fats in the edge of the cornea. These deposits do not affect your vision and do not require any treatment.
This ring around your iris may occur in younger people and is common in those under 45 who also suffer from familial hyperlipidemia. Analysis of your cholesterol levels, however, requires more than ranking your total cholesterol or HDL/LDL number against normative values. Dietary cholesterol plays an important role in your neurological and cognitive health, so reducing your intake of healthy cholesterol may cause significant long-term harm to your health.
The dietary fats that are associated with heart disease originate in vegetable oils, trans fat in baked goods and oxidized omega-6 fats. Replacing healthy saturated fats with refined carbohydrates has only exacerbated the challenges with heart disease and stroke. For help with healthy dietary guidelines and how to determine if your cholesterol level is unbalanced see my article, "The Cholesterol Myth Has Been Busted — Yet Again."
7 Fascinating Facts About Your Eyes
Your eyes say a lot about you and your health. Here are a few fun facts about vision and how your eyes interact with your environment.
Fast twitch muscles
Your eyes may not be the strongest muscle or move the fastest, but they are the fastest reacting muscles in your body.21 The eye can move in all directions within less than a second and reacts more quickly than other muscles. The muscles move together so you can blink, focus and track movement — all at the same time.
Millions of cones and rods
While dogs have us beat at hearing sounds,22 we can see many more colors and variety in our environment than they can. With 7 million cones and 130 million rods in your eye to detect variations in color, you are able to see nearly 10 million different colors.23
Baby's eye color may change
Many babies are born with blue eyes that gradually darken over the first year.24 Usually, by 9 months your baby's eyes will be very close to their permanent color.
Your eyelashes have an average life span of five months. If you put each of the lashes shed over your life end-to-end it would reach approximately 98 feet.25
There are 39 million people around the world who are blind.27 Nearly 80 percent of vision problems are preventable or curable. Your eyes heal very quickly; with proper care a corneal scratch may heal in 48 hours. More than 1 million nerve fibers connect each eye to your brain, making this connection so complex that an eye transplant is not yet possible.
Although you don't see it, each of your eyes has a blind spot in your field of vision where your optic nerve attaches to your retina.28 Your eyes work together to fill in the blind spot of the other.