What Nationalities Have the Biggest Eyes?

blue gray eye close up main

Caucasians on average have bigger eyes than other groups. Scientists have found that people who live in polar regions have larger eyes. Other people with big eyes include those who live in the Mediterranean and Middle East. We might evolve into bigger-eyed people in the distant future as we populate the stars. Eye preference is largely a cultural matter.  

Her hair is Harlow gold
Her lips a sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She’s got Bette Davis eyes

Kim Cartnes (Bette Davis Eyes)

Eyes are the windows into the soul.  They are full of symbolism.  

Big eyes symbolize being passionate, warm, and open to all things. Big eyes mean you are alert (“wide-eyed and bushy-tailed”).  But, openness also can make big-eyed people vulnerable.  

Great actresses from the past (Bette Davis) and present (Amanda Seyfried) are known for them.  Are any particular nationalities known for their big eyes?  Let’s check it out.  

(Note: I’m not sure about the “pure as New York snow” line in that song. Really? She must not mean New York City snow.)  

Human Diversity 

Humans are a very diverse species. Different groups have certain distinctive physical characteristics such as the color of skin, hair type, height, and many other things. 

Scientists have determined that different characteristics are generally adaptions that are appropriate to their environments.  We saw this when we explained why Asian eyes are small (“almond-shaped”). A special part of the eye was developed to protect them from snowblindness.  Other people with similar eyes also had to deal with bright light, including desert dwellers.  

Migration, interbreeding, and the basic complexity of the human body factor in as well.  

Polar Dwellers

Scientists have found that people who live in polar areas have the biggest eyes.   

Professor Robin Dunbar co-authored a study that found that people who live in polar areas (such as Scandinavians) have eyes 20% larger than those who live nearer to the equator (think Central America).  Birds and non-human mammals who live in polar regions also have larger eyes.

The bigger eyes are a recent (in evolutionary terms) adaptation to the environment:

Humans have only lived at high latitudes in Europe and Asia for a few tens of thousands of years, yet they seem to have adapted their visual systems surprisingly rapidly to the cloudy skies, dull weather and long winters we experience at these latitudes.

Bigger eyes led to bigger heads.  Who has the biggest forehead? For Neanderthals, this was not a great thing, since it crowded out more developed brains.   Moderation in all things, I guess.  

Big Eyes Outside Polar Regions 

The finding that different types of animals who live in polar regions have big eyes helps to explain why Caucasians generally have bigger eyes than other groups. Asians as we have discussed evolved to have smaller eyes.  Africans also have smaller eyes as a whole.

There are groups of people who do not live near polar regions with big eyes. For instance, Mediterraneans, North Africans, and Middle Easterners are known for their big eyes.  

Arab women, for instance, are known for their big eyes.  The eyes are emphasized even more with makeup, which since ancient times partially had a medicinal value (kohl makeup).  

There are various reasons people in this area of the world have big eyes, including migration and genetic conditions that I will not delve into, partially since the scientific papers involved are meant for my medically trained relative, not my more historically inclined training.  

Big Eyed Future?

The need for larger eyes to catch as much light as possible might also be our fate in the future.  

Thousands of years from now, we will colonize other planets, and be further and further away from the sun.  Again, like our ancestors, we will develop bigger eyes to adapt to limited sunlight.

I wrote a list of the top ten books on aliens.  The ones from Mars, not Mexico or Canada.  Notice how the stereotypical alien has large eyes.  Mars is after all further away from the sun.

Final Thoughts 

Ideals of beauty are often a matter of taste. Different cultures and individual people have different ideas about what is beautiful.  

Big eyes, sometimes emphasized by makeup, are often deemed beautiful.  Other “hacks” for big eyes are getting enough sleep, drinking more water, and moisturizing your face.  

Others?  They want smaller eyes.  Negative terms like “bulging eyes” are used.  Doing research on these body-related blogs repeatedly involves reading through reports of plastic surgeons. 

What about you?  We dealt with large and small eyes.  Do you have a preference?

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.