Men with brown eyes are perceived as more dominant, but it’s not because their eyes are brown

White men with brown eyes are perceived to be more dominant than their blue-eyed counterparts. However, a blue-eyed man looking to make himself appear more dominant would be wasting his time investing in brown-coloured contact lenses. A new study by Karel Kleisner and colleagues at Charles University in the Czech Republic has found that brown iris colour seems to co-occur with some other aspect of facial appearance that triggers in others the perception of dominance.

Sixty-two student participants, half of them female, rated the dominance and/or attractiveness of the photographed faces of forty men and forty women. All models were Caucasian, and all of them were holding a neutral expression. Men with brown eyes were rated consistently as more dominant than blue-eyed men. No such effect of eye-colour was found for the photos of women. Eye colour also bore no association to the attractiveness ratings.

Next the researchers used Photoshop to give the brown-eyed men blue eyes and the blue-eyed men brown eyes. The photos were then rated by a new batch of participants. The intriguing finding here was that the dominance ratings were left largely unaffected by the eye colour manipulation. The men who really had brown eyes, but thanks to Photoshop appeared with blue eyes, still tended to be rated as more dominant.

This suggests there’s some other aspect of facial appearance that tends to co-occur with brown eyes, which is responsible for the perception of dominance. An analysis of the men’s facial configurations showed that the brown-eyed men tended to have broader, bigger chins, bigger noses, eyes closer together, and larger eye-brows than blue-eyed men, so it’s possible some or all of these facial features are responsible for the perception of dominance. Certainly previous research has shown that men with wider faces are perceived as more aggressive.

Kleisner’s team can’t say at this point why eye colour co-occurs with certain facial features and with the appearance of being more dominant or submissive. However, one suggestion they make is that boys with blue eyes come to be seen as less dominant by a process of social feedback. ‘It is possible that subjects with blue eyes are treated as a small child for a longer period than brown-eyed children,’ the researchers said. ‘Such early social experience may have been literally “inscribed” into their faces, preserved until adulthood, and finally bring on the perception of higher submissiveness.’

ResearchBlogging.orgKleisner, K., Kočnar, T., Rubešová, A., & Flegr, J. (2010). Eye color predicts but does not directly influence perceived dominance in men. Personality and Individual Differences, 49 (1), 59-64 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.03.011

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

19 thoughts on “Men with brown eyes are perceived as more dominant, but it’s not because their eyes are brown”

  1. How were the stimuli attained? I'm having trouble fully accepting the conclusion if there's any possibility that the photographs were (unintentionally) biased toward dominant brown-eyed men. Perhaps there are plenty of not dominant-looking brown eyed men that weren't represented in the experiment. I'd like to know that the pictures were randomly taken from a large pool of possibilities.

    I'd also be interested to see what scores would look like on hazel-eyed faces or other eye colors that are only partially brown. Presumably whatever's contributing the brown pigment is still at play to some degree, right?

  2. I assume that the pictures used in the study consisted of Caucasian males. In Asian cultures, mostly 85% of males (maybe more) have brown eyes…so in that context, the current results may be misleading?

  3. As soon as I read what co-occured with brown eyes I thought, yes it goes back genetically to our ancestry perhaps.
    When cultures rewarded elders with respect for wisdom learned for the most part through experience and tradition.

    Blue eyes are beautiful up close, but how often are we really that up close to anybody?

  4. “This suggests there's some other aspect of facial appearance that tends to co-occur with brown eyes, which is responsible for the perception of dominance.”

    Surely this study shows that eye color has nothing to do with perceived dominance, but rather “some other aspect of facial appearance.”

  5. Hi Paulr, I'm glad you said that because having read this blog through a couple of times that's the conclusion I've come to! I thought I was missing something…maybe I still am. But I'm female with blue eyes so I guess it doesn't affect me personally!

  6. I would suggest it is due to ancestry closer to the equator for men with brown eyes. As you move further from the equator, average digit ratios rise, making people more feminised. Digit ratio has been shown to inversely correlate with facial dominance. There are more blue-eyed people on average the further North you go, meaning that the Caucasian men who have blue eyes are more likely to be more feminine. The eye colour isn't related to dominance, as shown by the study, but blue eyes just happen to correlate with less dominance. I would predict therefore that there would also be a correlation between darker skin and dominance (and probably a link between lighter hair and less dominance).

  7. That is incredibly interesting, if you look towards history many dictators all had brown eyes. Interesting study!

  8. Would be interesting to look further into what facial features imply dominance and the relationship between eye colour and these traits.

  9. The key word in the study is “perceived” making it very subjective. It is too small of a study to conclude anything albeit an interesting concept.

  10. Excuse me but genetically, I think our eye colour is more related to the climate than our 'wisdom'…

  11. “This suggests there's some other aspect of facial appearance that tends to co-occur with brown eyes”

    This is the whole point. The eye colour makes no difference, but facial structure does. However, dominant facial structures are associated with brown eyes, so what is this link and what does it mean? That is the issue.

  12. How about hair color?

    Reminds me of the lit. on blue-eye/blonde-hair kids (that one was males too I believe) and 'behavioral inhibition.' (Not sure whether they distinguished b/w a perception by others of this trait, and the actual measurement of it, though.)

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