I’ve just returned from my annual eye exam. I used to go every two years, but now I’ve reached the age where my optometrist recommends that I go each year.
The exam is not too bad, and I certainly prefer it over a visit to the dentist. I must admit I’m not crazy about the glaucoma test – the one in which a machine blows a puff of air into your eyes. Despite the optometrist’s best attempts to randomize the time of the puff (and my best attempts to keep my eyes wide open and still), I invariably blink when it happens, and they don’t get a good reading – and that means another blast of air in my eye…
I’m also not thrilled with the drops they use to dilate your pupils – the effects last 4-5 hours, and during that time everything is a bit blurry, and the daylight is uncomfortably bright. I have to wear sunglasses to drive home, and until the drops wear off, I generally stay indoors.
My optometrist’s office is located inside a shopping mall. After the exam was over, I decided to wander around the mall for a while and do a bit of shopping. While browsing and strolling through the stores, I noticed that the sales girls were exceedingly nice to me. They’ve always been polite in the past, but this time they bubbly, happy and seemed to be going out of their way to be accommodating. I must admit I’m not used to this, and I wondered why this was happening. Maybe it was employee evaluation time. Then again, the economy is still depressed, so the extra friendliness could pay off in additional sales.
I didn’t actually figure it out until I got home and glanced at myself in the bathroom mirror. My pupils were still very dilated – and quite noticeably so. Aha – a eureka moment!
You’re probably wondering how these two things are connected. Dilated pupils are actually a sign of interest and desire. They are also a very accurate sign because your pupils cannot be dilated at will – it’s an autonomic response.
Years ago, in my university psychology class, I remember my professor talking to us about dilated pupils. Someone asked him why Europeans stand so close to people during conversations – uncomfortably close for North Americans. He said that this behaviour was advantageous to European merchants when potential customers were examining their wares. No matter how much they wanted a certain item, customers would at first feign indifference, and then bargain with the merchant and drive the price down as far as possible. By getting right “in their face” the merchant could determine how much a customer wanted a particular item by observing how much their pupils dilated. This reaction cannot be controlled, which gives the merchant the upper hand in negotiations.
My professor also added a humourous observation. At a party, you can always tell when an American is speaking with a European, because over time they start gliding – a discreet half step at a time – right across the room!
Advertisers use this to their advantage as well – in print ads, the pupils of models are often altered to appear more dilated than they actually are, giving the impression that this stunning, flawless, toned, athletic, and clearly out-of-your-league professional model actually desires you.
During my post-examination shopping, I was, without even realizing what was happening, sending discreet, unspoken signals to the sales girls – these fell somewhere on a continuum between interest, desire and (I’m guessing) insatiable animal-like lust.
Only 364 days until my next eye exam – I can’t wait!