Jan. 10, 2013 at 8:08 AM ET
Gazing into people’s eyes can offer insight into whether they can be trusted, and according to new research, this perception may have something to do with eye color.
A study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that brown-eyed people are believed to be more trustworthy than blue-eyed people.
Does that mean that you can trust well-known brown-eyed girls (and boys) like Hugh Jackman and Sandra Bullock more than Jude Law and Reese Witherspoon?
Not exactly, since eye color doesn’t paint the whole picture of what trustworthiness looks like.
“It is not eye color, but face shape associated with eye color that causes the higher perception of trustworthiness,” wrote lead study author Karel Kleisner of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, in an email to NBCNews.com. “
Kleisner and his colleagues asked more than 200 students to rate how much they could trust a series of 80 male and female faces with either brown or blue eyes.
Subjects rated the brown-eyed faces as being more trustworthy, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
To demonstrate that eye color isn’t the final answer when it comes to trustworthiness, the researchers then asked a second group of students to rate the same faces, but with the eye colors digitally switched.
The faces rated the most trustworthy by the first group received similar ratings from the second group, even though the eyes were now different colors. The authors surmised that some other characteristic must play a role.
In general, faces judged as more trustworthy are narrower, have bigger eyes, and broader mouths with upward-oriented lips. Kleisner explained that these are characteristics associated with brown eyes.
On the other hand, blue eyes tend to be smaller, meaning many blue-eyed faces are pointier and longer with eyebrows that are far apart.
Favoring those big, brown, puppy-dog eyes may have some social implications, Kleisner explained.
“This may further lead to social stereotypes that affect a broad range of social situations from mate choice and business partner selection to political marketing and democratic processes,” he wrote.
But despite being viewed as less trustworthy, blue-eyed individuals may have something working in their favor – at least in Northern Europe.
Blue eyes, the authors explained, are very common throughout that part of the world, most likely because they are considered more attractive. The preference for blue eyes, they added, makes up for the perceived lack of trustworthiness.
Kleisner added that the research needs to be replicated using different photos and different subjects, and he cautioned against over-interpreting the significance of the findings.
So don't look too deeply into those puppy dog eyes just yet.