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What makes eyes seem to sparkle?
May 29, 2009 7:22 AM   Subscribe

What makes eyes seem to sparkle?

When someone's eyes seem to sparkle, what exactly is going on? Is it a physical change in the eye? Is it their general demeanor that makes it look like their eyes are sparkling? Is it the lighting? Just to be clear, I'm not talking about makeup. When I searched for this on the web, I got a lot of results about makeup, but I'm interested in what makes eyes naturally sparkle.
posted by larkin123 to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tears.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:32 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


A smile.
posted by dinger at 7:40 AM on May 29, 2009


The angle of light going into and being reflected from the eyes.
posted by maudlin at 7:48 AM on May 29, 2009


In a lot of ads if you look very closely, you can see a ring of 8 or 10 lights, that are behind the photographer which definitely make it look like they have sparkling eyes. In real life, however, it would probably be tears that help pronounce the effect of sparkling eyes.
posted by Grither at 7:50 AM on May 29, 2009


I think referring to the sparkle in someone's eye is a metaphor. It refers to a more complicated emotional state or predisposition, so we ascribe visual characteristics to it. Usually, people to whom I attribute sparkling eyes are charismatic individuals who are excited about something without being overbearing. I'm more likely to pay attention to someone I find intriguing, and will probably spend more time looking at their eyes than I would someone I don't find compelling. Hence, I notice their eyes more than I otherwise might, and instead of trying to explain the nuanced vibes I'm picking up, I just call it sparkle.

Physically, I'd imagine it's light bouncing off the lens.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:52 AM on May 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


To expand on maudlin's answer, look up catchlight or obie for more info.
posted by TedW at 7:52 AM on May 29, 2009


I love the first 3 answers! Also, healthy, clear (not bloodshot) eyes will be more luminescent/sparkly.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:05 AM on May 29, 2009


What I think: Rarely will you get the impression that a person's eyes sparkle when they are not smiling. Additionally, the phenomenon takes time to perceive and is not captured in a photo but unfolds over some small amount of time with each successive glint building up, iteratively, to the overall impression that the eyes are sparkling.

Physically, the environment to create the perception of sparkling requires light sources and illuminated objects sufficient to create the specular reflections associated with sparkling eyes. This can be a nearly dark environment with a single source or a bright environment with dancing light sources such as the undulating surface of water.

My 2ยข.
posted by bz at 8:27 AM on May 29, 2009


It's light reflecting from the cornea. In corneal oedema, the sparkle is lost.

When my children were very young, I noticed that their eyes naturally sparkled much more brightly than adults' eyes do.
posted by Ery at 8:33 AM on May 29, 2009


In my case, it's because I have bionic eyes, so to speak. I had cataract removal surgery 11 years ago followed by lens implants. When you look at me from an angle, the light reflects off the implants creating a sparkling effect. I've had more than a few people go WOAH!, how do you make your eyes do that?
posted by netbros at 9:04 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eyelashes
posted by fire&wings at 9:09 AM on May 29, 2009


I always assumed that it was the paradoxical combination of a) dilated pupils (associated with strong emotion, particularly attraction or terror) and b) unusual lighting. Strong lighting usually causes the pupils to contract, so pupillary dilation sustained beneath the glare of strong lighting subliminally suggests that the strong emotion is indeed a strong emotion. Over time, it would have made sense for humans to evolve a consistent emotional response--feeling good-- when seeing this "sparkling eyes" cue.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2009


Oh, and as suggested by someone earlier, subtle tearing is probably an ingredient also.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:14 AM on May 29, 2009


I had the misfortune to be first on the scene of a car accident involving a number of elderly people as well as children. One elderly woman appeared superficially to be uninjured, but she died with her head on my jacket and my hand on her forehead (this was in a remote area and there was only one medical guy there -- an off-duty fireman).

In any case, she came in and out of death several times, while having CPR applied. Each time she died, I could see very vividly how the light faded from her eyes, and each time she came back the light returned.

I am not suggesting any kind of light emittance from the eye, but I do believe there is a very short-term metabolic effect whichc auses the sparkle of the eyes, probably oxygenation of the cornea (which happens through tears IIRC) and not just anything to do with incident light which did not change throughout.
posted by Rumple at 10:41 AM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have always noticed that my eyes appear brighter when I have a fever. I've noticed this in others as well--to the point that I ask my SO if he's feeling okay whenever his eyes seem extra sparkly. I assumed this was well-known phenomenon but google results are not all that conclusive, so maybe I'm crazy.
posted by Jemstar at 11:11 AM on May 29, 2009


My eyes look glittery and weird when I have a fever, too.

And some actors' eyes sparkle on stage (particularly dark eyes), while others' eyes sparkle on camera (particularly light eyes, when a savvy lighting designer lights their eyes from the side so the light glints off their iris and shines out through the cornea. Angelina Jolie in The Changeling is a good example of this- even in the poster- see how the light is shining through her cornea to land on her iris and make the green colour glow?)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:53 AM on May 29, 2009


Adrenaline, dopamine? People's eyes sparkle when they're excited, animated, aroused, stressed and/or and generally interested in life, so you know there's got to be a hormonal and neurological component to it.


"In the eye, adrenaline acts on receptors (adrenoceptors) in the walls of blood vessels. This causes the blood vessels to narrow which restricts the flow of blood through the vessels."

Eyes, Window to the Soul - and to Dopamine Levels?

The ancient proverb "the eyes are the window to the soul" may in some ways be validated by cognitive neuroscience. Pupil diameter is gaining currency as an index of mental effort ("cognitive workload") as well as arousal. In the most compelling finding from this literature, pupil diameter has been observed to increase with each successive item maintained in memory, up until each subject's working memory capacity - and then to contract incrementally as each item is reported back to the experimenter. Some recent work suggests that spontaneous eye blink rate - how quickly the eyes blink in normal, everyday situations - may also be an index of prefrontal or executive processes.
posted by aquafortis at 12:12 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read once that if you want to make your eyes sparkle while in conversation with another person, you should periodically shift your gaze from focusing on their left eye to their right, and back again. The subtle shift in focus from side-to-side creates a sparkling effect.

Dunno if it works or not, but it's got cool potential.
posted by AngerBoy at 12:21 PM on May 29, 2009


Okay, now I really want to meet Netbros.
posted by theora55 at 1:09 PM on May 29, 2009


Holy shit, Rumple.
posted by WCityMike at 3:43 PM on May 29, 2009


In any case, she came in and out of death several times, while having CPR applied. Each time she died, I could see very vividly how the light faded from her eyes, and each time she came back the light returned.

I am not suggesting any kind of light emittance from the eye, but I do believe there is a very short-term metabolic effect whichc auses the sparkle of the eyes, probably oxygenation of the cornea (which happens through tears IIRC) and not just anything to do with incident light which did not change throughout.


My theory on this relies on the constant tiny eye movements we make with our eyes. So, we have a wet, shiny pseudo-sphere and we get a specular highlight.

Then, we rapidly twitch that wet, shiny pseudo-sphere around constantly and it appears that the specular highly is flashing in and out of existence or moving. Thus, a twinkle or sparkle.
posted by Netzapper at 4:11 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


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