Which way are these eyes looking? Do they seem to be looking right at you, or off to the side?
Our perception of gaze direction is influenced by the position of the iris inside the visible surface of the sclera (the white of the eye), but that’s only part of the story.
In 1824 William Henry Wollaston made exact duplicates of an engraved plate of eyes and eyebrows. He then placed them in two different facial contexts. One face is turned one way, and the other points in the opposite direction.
Surprisingly the exact same set of eyes appears to be looking in different directions solely because of the surrounding facial cues.
Even if you take a matched pair of eyes and eyebrows and just shift the nose beneath them from one side to the other, you can shift the apparent direction of gaze.
Why this happens is still not completely understood. Ophthalmologists Michael F. Marmor and James G. Ravine, authors of the new book “The Artist’s Eyes: Vision and the History of Art,” suggest a psychological cause: “Our judgment of the direction of someone’s eyes is linked, in part, to the direction we believe that person to be looking.”
This might explain why cartoon eyes drawn "crosseyed" still seem to be looking at us.
The Artist’s Eyes: Vision and the History of Art by Marmor and Ravine
William Hyde Wollaston, Apparent Direction of Eyes in a Portrait
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