Poets have known for a long time and scientists are catching on that eyes are important for us to focus on if we are to identify clues to someone’s life and wellbeing.
Andrew Iwach, MD, associate clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of California San Francisco and executive director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco describes the eyes as “unique real estate…They’re the only place in the body where you can see a bare nerve, a bare artery, and a bare vein without doing any cutting. And the disease processes we see occurring in the eye are probably occurring in the rest of the body.”
In a different field, Swedish scientists in Orebro University compared the eyes of 428 subjects with their personality traits to see if these structures in the iris reflected their characters. They focused on patterns in crypts – threads which radiate from the pupil – and contraction furrows – lines curving around the outer edge – which are formed when the pupils dilate. Their findings showed those with denselypacked crypts are more warmhearted, tender, trusting, and likely to sympathise with others. In comparison, those with more contraction furrows were more neurotic, impulsive and likely to give way to cravings.
In babies, eyes are incredibly important to observe – how they look and also how they are used and responded to. Are they shiny and alert when baby is interacting and do they seek out faces and also do they blink to help regulate the baby’s arousal levels?
Professor A. Guedeney developed the Alarm Distress Baby Scale which can be used to help identify infants at risk of social withdrawal from a range of factors including distress in the parent infant bond. (http://www.adbb.net/gb-echelle.html ) Key to this assessment are the infant’s eyes! The domains observed within the scale are facial expression; eye contact; general level of activity; self-stimulation gestures; vocalizations; briskness of response to stimulation; relationship to the observer, and attractiveness to the observer. In terms of attractiveness, in 1949, Konrad Lorenz proposed the concept of baby schema (Kindchenschema), a set of facial and body features, that make a creature appear “cute” and activate (“release”) in others the motivation to care for it- and large eyes are a part of this!
In terms of the response from others to babies’ eyes, parents with trauma histories will frequently report that their baby’s stare can be disconcerting, as if the baby can see inside them to their broken parts. It is this that can lead to disruptions in eye contact, as the infant gaze is not met and taken in by the parent. Also parents who are sensitive to rejection may not be able to tolerate a baby’s break in gaze. This too can lead to difficulties for infants in how they then use their eyes in response to others.
A focus on a baby’s eyes will lead to rich insights and conversations with parents and may assist in identifying those babies and parents who need more support at the start of life.