- Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who says she slept with Donald Trump, talked to Anderson Cooper on Sunday night about her alleged affair with the President.
- Viewers quickly chimed in on Twitter during the interview, noting her dark pupils were much larger than Cooper’s, and suggesting she might’ve been on drugs.
- Scientists who study pupil size measurement say that’s a ridiculous assumption.
Stormy Daniels told the world on Sunday night that she’d been threatened to keep quiet about her alleged affair with President Trump.
In a one-on-one interview with 60 Minutes’ Anderson Cooper, Daniels (née Stephanie Clifford) told Cooper she’d had sex with Trump once while he was married to Melania, but that she felt bullied and intimidated into signing statements denying their relationship.
During the interview, some viewers were apparently more focused on the dilation of Daniels’ eyes than on her words. Many couldn’t help noticing how much bigger Daniels’ eyes were than everyone else on set:
While others were near certain that the difference must mean Daniels was on drugs:
Scientists who study the reasons why our pupils dilate say just because you see large, black pupils beaming in the center of someone’s eyes doesn’t mean they’re under an influence.
The scientific word for pupil dilation is “mydriasis,” and while the effect can be triggered by drug use, it doesn’t have to be. Often pupil dilation as a result of drug use happens with stimulants like cocaine or ecstasy (or marijuana use) but the effects of this tend to vary from person to person.
But here’s a more universal cause of pupil dilation: emotional or memory changes.
Megan Papesh, an assistant professor at LSU who studies eye and pupil movement (pupillometry) and memory says that dilated pupils can be a sign of any number of changes in the body, including some related to sexual attraction. It doesn’t have to mean a person’s taken any drugs, and can simply be the body’s way of responding to a stimulus – especially one that might prompt a ‘fight-or-flight’ decision.
This is all tied up in the autonomic system, a section of our nervous system that regulates many involuntary movements – those things our bodies do without thinking.
“It is absolutely wrong to assume that someone is on drugs (legal or illegal) based on dilated pupils,” Papesh told Business Insider in an email.
“Maybe Stormy was sexually attracted to Anderson Cooper. Although that would make more sense than the drug claim, there is simply no way to know for sure what caused her pupils to dilate.”
Dilated pupils can be a sign of fear, emotion, or excitement. These are reasonable feelings for someone on national TV who knows millions of people will likely be fixated on her every word.
“Being interviewed for 60 Minutes is surely exciting or nerve-wracking, and both of those would reasonably cause dilation,” Papesh said.
Other reasons for pupil mydriasis can include remembering a question or retrieving an old memory, both processes which come into play when someone’s being interviewed.
“If that memory is sexual in nature, well…there’s even more dilation!” Papesh adds.
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.