There are many common phrases that suggest that our vision can be affected by our mood or emotions. Everyone would be familiar with such phrases such as ‘rose–tinted glasses’ and ‘green-eyed’, or have heard something described as ‘eye opening’.
Such terms form part of our everyday language, but it now appears that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that our emotional state can actually influence our vision.
Both the Journal of Neuroscience and the Scientific American magazine have researched the subject and report that behavioural studies indicate there is a clear link between what we are thinking and how we see the world.
Scientists have known for more than a century that the pupils of the eye respond to more than just light – they also reveal signs of mental and emotional significance. It’s only in recent times that we understand more about it.
What actually happens with eyes and emotions?
Stimulation of the body’s autonomic nervous system can cause either dilation or constriction of the pupils, so they reflect some type of emotional response at any given time. In fact, it seems that the amount of pupil response resulting from mental effort is even more acute than expected and incredibly precise.
Some of the best examples include:
Getting a new pair of glasses
Patients with vision loss from conditions such as a cataract, diabetes, glaucoma, macular degeneration or other conditions may not have had the real impact displayed to them until they get new glasses.
Despite counseling on part of a doctor or staff on the limitations to expect from new glasses, people may not process the information we try to tell. It’s as if a psychological block, a type of denial exists, with a subconscious desire that new glasses fix all cases of blurred vision. Their past experience with visual blur had always been improved with new glasses. They remember the positive impact new glasses made. This expectation is probably strong and seems to persist in some patients despite even careful counseling.
When they see for the first time that new glasses didn’t help, it can hit one like a brick wall. This is the first real impact of their vision loss. Despite the education, the emotional wall now breaks down. Denial can turn into anger (see the 12 stages of healing) for the eye care professional who are trying to do their best. Sometimes we as eye doctors may not have counseled our patients well enough for them to be prepared.
Crime scene witness differences
Eyewitness testimony in the previous century was considered the best evidence possible. Now it is considered nearly the worst.
Emotional factors influence the reliability and accuracy of witness descriptions. The stress factors involve in a crime can influence the ability for a witness to recall events accurately. Several studies have shown that different people will describe events differently and offer differing descriptions of the perpetrator. Differences even occur when stress is eliminated and witnesses just watch a video of events.
Color Vision and Emotion
One study from Caltech suggests that color vision evolved and improved to help humans see emotion. In addition to food identification, the neurobiologist theorized it was socially important for humans to interpret the emotions of others.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD has well documented effects on vision. The most common effect is blurred vision. The study quoted notes several possible ways blurred vision can occur but the symptom itself can be vague and difficult to discover why. From a clinical perspective, I have observed patients reject new eyewear with reports of blurred vision even though all tests were exactly on target with the prescription. Stress can cause blurred vision. Not just severe stress like PTSD but any greater than usual stress such as divorce, social changes, life changes, major illness of self or a loved one, and employment-related concerns. The ability to adapt by a minor change in a prescription may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back if one is already coping at their maximum ability of other stressors.
Our visual system has a complex relationship with emotion. In some aspects it is very involved: our visual cortex is activated to help us process and identify emotions. In other ways, it is less involved: visual learning of emotion may be minimal. This could mean that expressing emotion (despite it being something that is inherently seen) functions through a different system. This makes sense, since blind individuals still need to express emotions in order to adapt and operate in social situations.
For more information regarding your benefits, special offers, and eye care information feel free to contact us or
Stay updated to Golden Eye Optometry news and offers by following us on: