Subscribe to Newsletter
Subspecialties Basic & Translational Research

Looking at Listening

How can you tell if someone is really listening to you? Apparently, their pupils can reveal a lot of information – the most moving parts of your story or whether you are properly connecting with the listener, for example. Researchers Thalia Wheatley and Olivia Kang from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, recorded videos of students telling an emotional personal story and used eye tracking to monitor pupillary dilation (1). The stories and speakers were then independently ranked in terms of engagement using only audio. Next, participants – also monitored with eye-tracking – watched the videos; Wheatley and Kang then compared listener pupillary response with the storytellers to determine periods of shared attention. They also investigated how listener pupillary response varied between highly expressive and less expressive speakers.

Highly empathic and less empathic listeners, as assessed by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, all paid attention to the climax of stories, but the ‘empaths’ followed the story more closely. Notably, those speakers ranked as highly expressive were more likely to achieve pupillary synchrony with listeners. The findings add to previous work from the same duo, which found that pupil dilation patterns can show when someone is paying conscious attention to something (2). Together, the findings suggest that pupil synchrony can track shared attention between people.

“The eyes are the window to the soul’ is an ancient saying supported by many scientific studies linking pupil dilation and eye gaze to mental states, such as attention and intention. Here, we show that the eyes not only reveal the inner workings of one mind, but reveal when two minds connect,” says Wheatley.

Receive content, products, events as well as relevant industry updates from The Ophthalmologist and its sponsors.

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].
If you wish to unsubscribe, you can update your preferences at any point.

  1. O Kang, T Wheatley, “Pupil dilation patterns spontaneously synchronize across individuals during shared attention”, J Exp Psychol Gen, 146, 569–576 (2017). PMID: 28383993.
  2. O Kang, T Wheatley, “Pupil dilation patterns reflect the contents of consciousness”, Conscious Cogn, 35, 128–135 (2015). PMID: 26002764.
Product Profiles

Access our product directory to see the latest products and services from our industry partners

Most Popular
Register to The Ophthalmologist

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:
  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Ophthalmologist magazine



The Ophthalmologist website is intended solely for the eyes of healthcare professionals. Please confirm below: