My, what big pupils you have!

April 23, 2018

Stormy Daniels’ pupillary diameter could indicate high intelligence

Much attention has been devoted lately to news reports regarding a lady by the name of Stormy Daniels. A popular television newsmagazine recently highlighted this individual, and her appearance on the show resulted in considerable scrutiny.

In the blogosphere, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding an unusually generously proportioned feature of Ms. Daniels’ anatomy.

Is the marked size difference a result of natural variation or due to artificial influences? What accounts for the dramatic difference in appearance between this person and the other persons who were interviewed in this same program? What, in short, accounts for the remarkable size of those...pupils?

A curious matter of size

Because I don’t watch enough television, I did not see this episode or observe this discrepancy. But the internet is full of screenshots showing the eyes of Ms. Daniels, the interlocutor, and her attorney. And these images undeniably show a striking variation in pupil diameter, with the two latter individuals having smallish 3-mm diameter or so pupils compared with 8- to 9-mm diameters for Ms. Daniels.1

Reading the commentary about this difference is interesting. Most comments note the bright lights that are typically part of filming for television and that this bright illumination should have caused pupillary constriction.

The idea that the discrepancy has a pharmacologic basis was repeatedly offered. Other suggestions offered to explain the difference included differing levels of arousal: perhaps this individual was more excited or became more emotional during the televised interview experience than were the other participants.

 

But one interesting proposed explanation that came as news to me related to differences in intelligence.

Recent research suggests a person’s baseline pupil size may even be related to how intelligent they are. But of course, it’s hard to say just how smart Daniels might be based on a single glance into her dark eyes.

Correlation uncovered

Did you, dear readers, know of such a correlation between pupil diameter and brain power? It came as news to me, but the cognitive psychology literature does indeed assert the existence of such a relationship.2

These researchers say that “baseline pupil size is, in fact, related to cognitive ability...This relationship could not be explained by differences in mental effort [and persisted after accounting] for potential confounding variables such as age, ethnicity and drug substances.”

According to these cognitive scientists, larger pupils are associated with greater “fluid intelligence,” the latter defined as the general ability to think abstractly, reason, identify patterns, solve problems, and discern relationships. 

Size doesn’t matter (yet)

Is there practical import to this relationship? Should we begin selecting medical students, ophthalmology residents, and Ophthalmology Times editors on the basis of pupil size?

Before we can conclude that size matters, further research is indicated.

References

1. https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/stormy-daniels%e2%80%99-pupils-dilated-during-her-60-minutes-interview-%e2%80%94-here%e2%80%99s-why-her-irises-might-have-changed-shape/ar-BBKJsXJ?ocid=spartandhp

2. The relationship between baseline pupil size and intelligence. Cognitive Psychology. 2016;91:109-123.

Peter J. McDonnell, MD, is the director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of  Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times. He can be reached at 727 Maumenee Building 600 N. Wolfe St. Baltimore, MD 21287-9278. Phone: 443/287-1511 Fax: 443/287-1514; E-mail: pmcdonn1@jhmi.edu