Eye Color Genetics:

What Your Eye Color Says about You and Your Genetics

by Orlin Sorensen

Whether your eyes are blue, brown, or green—or somewhere in between these three most common shades—their hue reveals more about you than just what color shirt you’ll look good in.

It’s long been known that eye color is a predictor of certain diseases. For instance, people with blue or other light-colored eyes are known to be more light-sensitive.

This is because they have less pigment to protect them from sunlight, which puts them at greater risk for macular degeneration and cataracts. An increased risk of uveal melanoma has been found in those with blue, green, or gray iris color.

And a yellowing of the whites of the eyes is one of the signs of liver disease, including malaria and hepatitis.

But recently, attention has been paid to the connection between eye color and sports performance.

A study at the University of Louisville found that brown-eyed people were better at fast-paced activities that involved quick reaction times, such as hitting a baseball or boxing, while blue-eyed people performed better in self-paced athletic tasks, such as hitting a golf ball or throwing a baseball.

Other studies have also claimed that brown-eyed people or those with dark-colored irises react faster, due to quicker reflexes, as compared to light-eyed people.

Dark-eyed men hit a tennis ball better than light-eyed men in forehand rallies and hit a target with a Frisbee more times than light-eyed students. These faster reaction times may be explained by another test: it has been found that dark-eyed subjects are more responsive to arousing visual and auditory stimuli than light-eyed subjects.

If you’re a blue-eyed athlete, don’t despair: There are some reports that blue-eyed folks are better “strategy thinkers” than those with dark eyes. That is probably why they are good at sports like golf or other activities that require planning and time-structuring.

Richard A. Sturm, a fellow at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, notes that “these reports are mixed: about half see some effect, the others not.” More research needs to be done.

And what about those babies who are born with one eye color and in a few years develop another? Often, newborns have blue eyes (this is possibly the origin of the expression “baby blues”), which change to green, hazel, light brown, or dark brown.

It is thought that exposure to light after birth triggers the production of melanin in the iris. At around the age of 3, children’s eyes have produced and stored enough melanin to indicate their natural shade.

While changes in infants’ eye color are fairly common, even in adults, eye color can change. "Some eyes become darker, but most become lighter with increasing age," says Sturm.

Eyes, unlike skin and hair, do not synthesize color pigment continuously. Instead, eyes keep pigment granules made earlier. So, if the pigment degrades, most often as a result of exposure to the sun, the eye color lightens.

So, while these results are interesting, the science is not yet strong enough to tell if your blue-eyed son should try out for the Yankees or emulate Tiger Woods.

However, scientists have concluded that the mutation for blue eyes probably arose in a single individual in the Near East 6,000 to 10,000 years ago—suggesting that your son and all other people with blue eyes come from the same ancestor.

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