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The Emotional Eye: Red Sclera as a Uniquely Human Cue of Emotion



Robert R. Provine, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD 21250, USA.



The sclera, the eye's tough white outer layer, provides the ground necessary for the display of its own color and that of the overlying membrane, the conjunctiva. This study evaluated the sclera as a cue of emotion by contrasting the ratings of 38 subjects for the level of anger, fear, sadness, disgust, happiness, or surprise of normal (untinted) eye images with copies of those images that were reddened by digital editing. Subjects rated individuals with reddened sclera as having more anger, fear, disgust, and sadness, and less happiness than those with normal, untinted sclera. Surprise was the only emotion unaffected by scleral redness. Humans, but not other primates, have evolved the white sclera necessary to display the blood flow in the overlying conjunctiva that produces the redness associated with certain emotional states.