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Perceived Direction of Gaze from Eyes with Dark vs. Light Irises

West, Roger W.*

doi: 10.1097/OPX.0b013e3182059ef3
Original Article

Purpose. Much of the previous research on the perceived direction of gaze has not specified eye color or pupil visibility. This study tests whether the lightness or darkness of a gazer's irises (typically brown vs. blue) affects their perceived direction of gaze.

Methods. Twenty-five observers judged the direction of horizontal gaze from a model whose LCD-imaged head gazed toward points on the plane of the observer's face. The model's head was displayed with its natural brown irises and also with its irises digitally altered to look blue without pupils, blue with centered pupils, and blue with nasally decentered pupils. True gaze location was compared with the judged gaze location for each type of iris.

Results. For all iris types, observers judged that monocular gaze was biased outward from its true direction for all gaze locations, including central, whereas binocular gaze was close to centered and had a greater slope. Blue eyes with no pupil and blue eyes with a centered pupil exaggerated this perceived outward deviation for monocular gaze but binocular gaze remained the same. When the pupils were nasally decentered by a typical amount, straight monocular as well as binocular gaze appeared to be centered.

Conclusions. The direction of monocular gaze from eyes that differ in the darkness of their irises is perceived differently, and, within the blue irises, small differences in pupil centration made surprisingly large differences in the perceived directions of gaze.

*PhD, OD

Oklahoma College of Optometry, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Received June 3, 2010; accepted September 7, 2010.

Roger W. West Oklahoma College of Optometry; Northeastern State University; 1001 North Grand Avenue; Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74464; e-mail:

© 2011 American Academy of Optometry