Why Do We Center Our Selfies On Our Left Eye?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Christopher W. Tyler D.Sc., PhD Division of Optometry and Vision Sciences School of Health Sciences City University of London London, United Kingdom

Prof. Tyler

Christopher W. Tyler D.Sc., PhD
Division of Optometry and Vision Sciences
School of Health Sciences
City University of London
London, United Kingdom

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: The idea came from my previous  investigation of compositional regulates in paintings, which showed that there is a sense of balance  between symmetry and asymmetry in a composition, such that the asymmetry composition tends to appear more dynamic and interesting, but it needs to be anchored around a symmetric point for a comfortable sense of stability. That point in adult portraits tends to be the dominant eye, placed close to the centre line, but above the centre of the painting as a whole.

Selfies are a fascinating art form and the lead author has published several papers on this topic from a cognitive neuroscience perspective. One fascinating feature of selfies is that they represent pseudo-artistic productions by individuals that do not generally have academic artistic training, making it interesting to compare them to self-portraits by real artists. If you then see the same phenomena, it is likely that these are rooted in our deep nature rather than on training and cultural conventions.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings? 

Response: The study found that selfies typically had one eye close to the centre of the photo. This is shown by the single peak of the histogram representing the distribution of the position of the most-centered eye, slightly to the left of the horizontal centre. There was no significant difference in this trend by sex or city where the selfie came from.  There was however significant trend towards choosing to center the left eye rather than the right, for some reason.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: That ordinary people use the same unexpected rules to compose their own photos as artists have done for centuries.  The simple expectation would be that, since the face has a symmetric structure, and we are very familiar with looking at faces, people (and artists) would centre their faces symmetrically in the picture frame.  While a small proportion of both chose to do so, the most common tendency is to arrange for one eye to be close to the centre horizontally (but above the centre vertically, so not camera-viewfinder-style centring).

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: For future research it would be very interesting to run a psychological study to explore how much this positioning in self-portraits is a conscious decision, versus the outcome of an intuitive sense of composition without realizing this result, versus the outcome of some other aesthetic decision such as consciously choosing to rotate the face to 3/4 view while centering the head, resulting in a more centred eye. (This last option was ruled out in the original study of painted portraits, but not in the present study of selfies.)

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Response: This study is one from a line of studies on the use of compositional principles in art of various forms. Composition tends be taught quite intuitively in art schools, so it is interesting to develop analytic hypotheses as to the effective rules of composition that people are using in practice and to uncover their unexpected tendencies. It is also interesting that, when told about the study, most people immediately rationalize why it makes sense, rather than being surprised that our ubiquitous bodily symmetry is violated in self-portraiture.


Eye centring in selfies posted on Instagram

Nicola Bruno ,Marco Bertamini ,Christopher W. Tyler

Published: July 17, 2019



Last Modified: [last-modified]

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Last Updated on September 12, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD