Have you ever wondered if you could spot a psychopath just by looking into their eyes?
Recently, psychopath eyes have sparked curiosity and controversy, leading many to ask: “Do psychopaths have different eyes?”
Researchers are now investigating psychopathy as a set of traits rather than a single condition, allowing them to explore psychopathic tendencies in non-offenders as well as offenders.
[Read this to decode psychopaths better: The Wisdom of Psychopaths Summary]
Let’s dive in to find out what’s so different about a psychopath’s eyes.
Do Psychopaths Have Different Eyes?
Psychopaths may actually have different eyes in terms of behaviors and responses. This study found that psychopathic offenders had no pupillary response to seeing disturbing images. This study found that psychopaths make significantly less eye contact, both in frequency and duration, during speaking, listening, and viewing images of human faces.
Recently, Nicola Gray and Aimee McKinnon monitored 120 young men’s pupils while they listened to emotional sounds. They found those with callous psychopathic traits had a reduced ability to process negative emotions, as shown by less change in pupil size.
Researchers at Cardiff and Swansea University measured pupillary responses of psychopathic and non-psychopathic offenders to disturbing and positive images. Non-psychopaths showed pupillary reactions to both. Psychopaths reacted to positive ones but not to disturbing ones, suggesting insensitivity to negative stimuli, not overall emotional immunity.
A psychopath’s default eye behavior is a cold stare, especially when confronted with negative or dangerous stimuli.
Overall, whatever their feelings inside, their expressions do not reach their eyes. They, or their brains, or their personality traits, do not allow it.
Why Do Psychopaths Have Different Eyes?
A psychopath’s different brain structure can play a role in their different eyes. In psychopaths, the amygdala, the part of the brain which processes fear-related emotions, is up to 18% smaller.
This brain deficit can cause their eyes to express or react less to emotional situations than ours do.
Another reason for their “different” eye behavior could be their inability to process the emotional aspects of the world around them.
- Psychopathy is a personality disorder marked by callousness, impulsivity, lack of empathy and remorse, and blunted emotional experience.
- Studies indicate that psychopathic people have reduced responses to fear and emotive stimuli, making it difficult for them to recognize emotions in faces, show emotional responses, and experience anxiety.
- They also have abnormal brain responses to emotions and weak physical reactions to emotions.
Renowned psychologist Robert D. Hare stated,
“Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.”
Hervey M. Cleckley, a pioneer in the field of psychopathy, observed that on the surface, a psychopath often appears as normal and well-adjusted when dealing with others or being examined, with little indication of their disorder within.
Incidentally, Cleckley was a psychiatrist for the prosecution in the 1979 trial of serial killer Ted Bundy.
A psychopath’s blunted emotions may also be the reason for their thrill-seeking behaviors.
How Do Psychopath Eyes Differ From Normal Eyes?
“The eyes of psychopaths have been described variously as cold, dull, emotionless, lifeless or empty, and as unseeing or staring… Some people say that it’s like looking into the eyes of a shark or reptile.”— Dr. Robert Hare
Psychopath eyes can appear dead, flat, or reptilian-like eyes, with dark irises, and pupils that don’t dilate much to threats in the environment.
One of the most defining features of psychopathic eyes is their intense, unblinking stare, often known as serial killer eyes.
- A psychopath’s stare can be unnerving, as it gives the impression that they are highly attentive and focused, yet devoid of empathy.
- This stare typically comes with a lack of natural facial movements and expressions, making it difficult to gauge a psychopath’s true emotions or intentions.
Another frequent feature that the eyes of psychopaths have is ‘Sanpaku eyes‘, in which the white part of the eye is visible above or below the iris. It gives an unsettling appearance to their gaze, but is not exclusive to psychopaths.
Moreover, psychopaths frequently have dark irises. This makes psychopath eyes turn black due to their pupils not dilating properly. As a result, their eyes seem void of warmth, adding to the perception of “dead” or “reptilian-like” eyes.
A psychopath’s smile is often described as “crocodile-like,” not reaching their eyes. This reveals their lack of genuine emotional connection, which can leave others feeling uneasy or manipulated.
In contrast, a genuine (“Duchenne smile”) makes crow’s feet around the eyes.
Physical Traits of A Psychopath’s Eyes
Psychopaths do not necessarily have “giveaway” physical differences in their eyes, but may have abnormal behaviors in their facial expression, emotional processing, eye gaze, and pupil dilation.
Facial Expression and Emotional Processing
- Psychopaths may appear emotionally distant due to a lack of facial expression responsiveness.
- Their expressions may seem unemotional, cold, or calculated, even when discussing sensitive topics.
- They may struggle to form meaningful relationships and establish genuine connections with others.
- They may have difficulty understanding and interpreting the emotions expressed by others.
Eye Gaze and Pupil Dilation
- Psychopaths are known for their intense or predatory stare, which involves prolonged eye contact and can be intimidating to others.
- Psychopaths may maintain eye contact when others would avert their gaze as a social cue or a sign of respect, suggesting they are assessing or manipulating the situation.
- Psychopaths’ pupils may not dilate when they encounter distressing or fear-inducing stimuli, indicating emotional detachment and fearlessness.
- While these physical traits and eye behaviors are not unique to psychopaths, they can provide valuable information when observed alongside other behavioral and emotional patterns consistent with psychopathy.
- Recognizing these traits and understanding their implications can help identify and interact with individuals who may exhibit psychopathic traits.
Psychological Traits Behind Psychopath Eyes
A psychopath’s eyes, the way they present themselves and interact with others, might provide some insight into their psychological traits.
Manipulation and Charm
- Psychopaths often use manipulative behavior and charm to gain trust and manipulate others for personal gain.
- Their charm can be a tool to deceive others and hide their true intentions.
- Psychopaths are difficult to spot because they can blend in and appear normal, making it challenging to identify their manipulative behavior.
- Some people may be drawn to psychopaths due to their captivating gaze and charisma, which can create a false sense of connection and trust.
Lack of Empathy and Remorse
Psychopaths cannot very well recognize fearful faces or voices.
- In 2002, James Blair found that psychopaths struggle to detect emotions in other people’s voices, particularly fear.
- In 1991, Robert D. Hare found that psychopaths have difficulty discerning emotional nuances in language.
This emotional processing deficit, causing a reduced ability to experience emotions and read others’ cues, can affect their eyes, resulting in descriptions such as “dead” or “flat.”
Another hallmark of psychopathy is a lack of empathy and remorse, which is evident in their eyes when confronted with their wrongdoings.
Scientific Studies on Psychopath Eyes
Let’s look into the science behind a psychopath’s unique eye characteristics and behaviors.
- One study showcases a neuroscientist who discovered that his own brain fit the pattern of a psychopath while conducting research on brain scans to identify psychopathic behavior.
- Science Daily reports that psychopaths have altered neural responses to emotion-related stimuli, which could explain their lack of empathy and antisocial tendencies.
- This study found that children with high callous-unemotional traits exhibit deficits in maintaining eye contact with their primary caregiver, even during expressions of love. This impairment was present in children as young as 4 years old and could be identified in a short 90-second interaction.
Is there something like female psychopath eyes?
While some studies suggest women may exhibit different patterns of psychopathic traits than men, there is no conclusive evidence to support specific types of eye behavior or appearance associated with female psychopathy. A psychopathic personality is diagnosed on behavioral and psychological traits rather than physical appearance.
What is the psychopathic stare?
The psychopathic stare refers to the intense and unsettling gaze that is frequently linked with psychopaths. It is characterized by prolonged eye contact, lack of blinking, and a seemingly emotionless expression. The psychopathic stare can feel uncomfortable or manipulative to those on the receiving end. Still, it is not exclusive to psychopaths, and anyone may learn to maintain long eye contact.
What is a psychopath’s stare called? There is no specific term for this stare; however, some have described this gaze of psychopaths as intense or predatory or shark eyes.
Do psychopaths look you in the eyes?
Psychopaths may look people in the eyes, but they often exhibit an intense or predatory gaze, which can feel uncomfortable or manipulative to those on the receiving end. They may maintain prolonged eye contact to assess or manipulate a situation. Research has found that psychopaths with high callous-unemotional traits tend to exhibit deficits in eye contact with their primary attachment figures, such as their parents.
Can psychopaths hold eye contact?
Psychopaths can hold eye contact, but studies have found that they exhibit reduced eye contact during in-person conversations and when viewing images of human faces. This study found that unpleasant stimuli led to greater emotional response (i.e., larger pupil dilation) than pleasant and neutral stimuli across all stimuli (Burley & Gray, 2017).
What are “sanpaku” eyes of a psychopath?
“Sanpaku” eyes refer to a condition in which the whites of the eyes are visible above or below the iris, which can occur in some psychopaths. However, this feature is not exclusive to psychopaths and can be seen in others as well. While there is insufficient evidence to claim that psychopaths have a distinct eye appearance, their traits, such as manipulation and lack of empathy, often influence how they use and maintain eye contact, which can reveal their psychopathic tendencies.
[We know emotional intelligence is good for us. But, can high Emotional Intelligence lead to risky behaviors?]
Psychopaths do not have a specific set of “eye traits” to mark them out, and there is no standardized “psychopath eyes test.”
While descriptions of their eyes may be intriguing, they are not enough to diagnose someone as a psychopath.
The idea that our eyes are windows to our soul isn’t true for psychopaths.
That said, recent research has led some experts to think that psychopath eyes may be related to their underlying manipulative and callous traits.
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Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism). He has been working with individuals and their families affected by psychopathy and narcissism for over a decade.
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