Why is it so powerful to meet another person's gaze? (2023)

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Why is it so powerful to meet another person's gaze? (1)

Von Christian JarretJanuary 8, 2019

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The reaction when two people look at each other in a crowded room is a staple of romantic cinema. But the complex unconscious reactions that occur are anything but false.


No doubt you have had the experience of looking someone in the eye in a crowded and noisy room. It's almost like a scene from a movie: the rest of the world goes gray as you and that other soul connect for a moment in the mutual knowledge that they are watching you and you watching them.

Of course, eye contact isn't always that exciting—after all, it's a natural part of most casual conversations—but it almost always counts. we doAssumptions about the personality of people.depending on how often they meet our gaze or look away when we speak to them. And when we pass strangers on the street or in another public place, it could be us.feeling rejected if you don't make eye contact.

We already know this from our everyday experiences. But psychologists and neuroscientists have studied eye contact for decades, and their fascinating findings reveal much more about its power, including what our eyes reveal and how eye contact changes our opinion of the other person looking at us.

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A recurring observation, for example, is that the eyes fixgraspmiholdour attention, making us less aware of what is happening around us (that "grey" that I mentioned before). Also,Looking at someone's face triggers a series of brain processes almost immediately., as we understand the fact that we are before the ghost of another person who looks at us. As a result, we become more aware of the action of that other person,who have their own opinion and perspective– and that, in turn, defines usmore confident.

You may have felt these effects especially strongly if you've ever held the intense gaze of a monkey or ape in a zoo: it's almost impossible not to be overcome by the deep feeling that they are a conscious being, judging and controlling you. actually evenlooking at a painted portraitWhat appears to be making eye contact has been shown to trigger a variety of brain activities related to social cognition, that is, in regions involved in thinking about ourselves and others.

Why is it so powerful to meet another person's gaze? (2)

Research shows that fixed eyes attract our attention (Image credit: Getty Images)

Not surprisingly, the drama of realizing that we are the object of another mind is very disturbing. considera recent studyby Japanese researchers. The volunteers watched a video of a face while simultaneously completing a word challenge to find verbs that went with different nouns (to give a simple example, if they heard the noun "milk," the appropriate response would be "drink"). Crucially, the volunteers struggled much more with the word challenge (but only with the more difficult nouns) when the face in the video appeared to make eye contact with them. The researchers believe this effect is because eye contact, even with a stranger on video, is so intense that it depletes our cognitive reserves.

Similar research has found that a person also meets the direct gaze of another.ruins our working memory(our ability to remember and use information in short periods of time), ourperformance, it's ourscontrol mental, in terms of our ability to suppress irrelevant information. You may have experienced these effects firsthand, perhaps inadvertently, when you broke eye contact with another person to better focus on what you are saying or thinking. Some psychologists even recommend looking away to help children answer questions.

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Too much eye contact can also make us uncomfortable, and people staring and holding can be scary.

Research shows that not only are our brains in overdrive, but eye contact shapes our perception of the other person meeting our gaze. For example, we often perceive people who make more eye contact as such.more intelligent, more conscious and sincere(at least in western cultures), and we're going tomore inclined to believe what they say.

Of course, too much eye contact can make us uncomfortable, and people looking and holding can seem scary. In a study conducted at a science museum,Psychologists have recently tried to determine the preferred duration of eye contact.. They concluded that it is an average of three seconds long (and no one preferred looks longer than nine seconds).

Why is it so powerful to meet another person's gaze? (3)

The drama of realizing that we are the object of another mind is very disturbing (Credit: Getty Images)

Another documented effect of mutual gaze may explain why this moment of eye contact across a room can sometimes seem so enticing. A recent study found that looking at each other leads to a kind of partial fusion of self and other:We judge that strangers we make eye contact with are more like us., in terms of his personality and his appearance. Perhaps in the right context, when everyone is busy talking to other people, this effect contributes to the feeling that you and the person looking at you are sharing a special moment.

The chemistry of eye contact doesn't end there. If you decide to get closer, you and your gaze partner will find that eye contact connects you in other ways as well, in a process known as "pupil mimicry" or "pupil contagion": this describes how your pupils and the other person they extend. and contract synchronously. This has been interpreted as a form of unconscious social mime, a kind of dance of the eyes, and that would be the most romantic approach.

But recently there has been some skepticism about this, with researchers saying the phenomenon is simplya response to fluctuations in the brightness of the other person's eyes(Up close, when the other person's pupils dilate, it increases the darkness of the scene, causing your pupils to dilate as well.)

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When you look deeply into the eyes of another person, don't think that only your pupils are sending you a message.

This is not to say that dilation has no psychological significance. In fact, since at least the 1960s, psychologists have studied how our pupils dilate when we are most aroused or stimulated (in the physiological sense), whether for intellectual, emotional, aesthetic, or sexual interest. This has led to a debate about whether faces with dilated pupils (sometimes referred to assign of sexual interest) are perceived as more attractive by strangers. At least some studies.a few decades oldmiothers of recent date, they suspect, and we also knowOur brain automatically processes the dilation of other people's pupils.

Why is it so powerful to meet another person's gaze? (4)

Even looking into the eyes of a portrait painting triggers the kind of brain activity associated with social cognition (Image credit: Getty Images)

However, centuries before this research, conventional wisdom certainly considered dilated pupils attractive. At various points in history, women have even used a plant extract to intentionally dilate their pupils to make themselves more attractive (hence the plant's slang name: "belladonna").

But when you look deeply into the eyes of another person, don't think that it is only your pupils that are sending you a message. Other recent research suggests so.We can read complex emotions from the muscles of the eyes.— that is, if a person squints or opens them wide. For example, if an emotion such as disgust causes us to squint, that “eye look”, as a facial expression, also indicates our disgust towards others.

Another important feature of the eye are the limbal rings: the dark rings that surround the iris. Recent evidence suggests that these curls are more visible on younger, healthier people, and that viewers know this on some level, so straight women looking for a short-term fling tend to rate men with more visible curls. like getting healthier.desirable.

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Why is it so powerful to meet another person's gaze? (5)

Look into the eyes of a gorilla and you'll realize you're being scrutinized by another intellect (Credit: Getty Images)

All of this research suggests that there is more than a grain of truth to the old adage that the eyes are a window to the soul. In fact, there is something incredibly powerful about looking deeply into another person's eyes. It is said that our eyes are the only part of our brain that is directly exposed to the world.

When you look another person in the eye, think: "Touching brains" could be the closest thing, or touching souls, if you want to be more poetic about those things. Given such intense intimacy, it's perhaps not surprising that if you dim the lights and hold another person's gaze for 10 minutes straight, you'll find strange things happening.maybe stranger than you've ever experienced before.


Dr. Christian Jarrettedits those of the British Psychological SocietyResearch SummaryFor the Blog. His next book, Personology, will be published in 2019.

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Why is eye contact so powerful? ›

Making eye contact helps both people focus on the conversation and read facial expressions. This can improve understanding. And improving understanding can significantly improve communication between two people.

What happens when two people's eyes meet? ›

Although the available research is old, there's some evidence that long eye contact can increase intimacy. In a pair of studies from 1989, strangers who looked into each other's eyes for 2 minutes experienced mutual feelings of love.

Why are we attracted to someone's eyes? ›

Prolonged eye contact has been thought to release phenylethylamine, a chemical responsible for feelings of attraction. It has also been thought to release oxytocin, the love chemical most closely associated with longer term bonding and commitment.

What does it mean to stare deeply into someone's eyes? ›

Eye-gazing is a sign of trust. People who gaze into each other's eyes are more likely to trust each other than those who do not. In fact, many people feel that eye contact is an indicator of someone being trustworthy.

Does strong eye contact mean attraction? ›

Does eye contact mean attraction? Eye contact is one of many signs of attraction, but it doesn't have to be. A person's eyes naturally wander and may make eye contact with someone else's in passing. If the other person immediately averts their gaze, they may not be interested.

What does it mean when someone holds your gaze? ›

For many people, it's a sign of interest when people maintain good eye contact with them while they listen to them talk. Holding someone's gaze is one of the easiest ways to acknowledge to another person that you notice their existence and consider them a valuable human.

Can you feel a connection through eye contact? ›

Eye contact can establish connection, but it can also be a by-product of connection. When two people are emotionally connected, they love to look into each other's eyes.

What is soul gazing? ›

Soul gazing is essentially a reciprocated invitation to be present with each other — not escaping, not hiding or averting, or blaming. Just sitting looking deeply into each other's eyes. It feels extraordinarily vulnerable and incredibly intimate.

Can you fall in love through eye contact? ›

Eye contact is so intense that researchers have even used it to trigger feelings of love. So, if your partner is looking deeply and comfortably into your eyes, it communicates a lot about their desire. “Eye contact is an intimate and vulnerable act, so intense eye contact can be very meaningful,” says Fraley.

What is the magic of the eye contact? ›

Researchers have found that in social situations eye contact signals connection and trust, and it mostly comes down to the pupils. If the pupils of the beholder dilate, which is a sign of attraction, the person in view is felt to be more trustworthy.

What eye contact says about a person? ›

Eye contact is one of the critical components of non-verbal communication and it carries several subtle rules of engagement. The presence or lack of eye contact can communicate dominance, submission, honesty, interest, passion, respect, or even hostility. It also shows we are an active listener.

Can you get turned on by eye contact? ›

Research shows that arousal is significantly enhanced while participants make eye contact with a live person compared to viewing a picture of direct or averted gaze. Recent research has pointed toward the potential for social interaction as a possible driving force behind the arousal enhancement.


1. 1 Left Eye Gaze with Cues
(Duncan Fish)
2. Robert Greene - How To Seduce Anyone With Psychology
(Better Chapter)
3. How To Make People Respect You If You're Quiet
(Charisma on Command)
4. 5 Signs of Dissociation
(Kati Morton)
5. PBS NewsHour full episode, Feb. 15, 2023
(PBS NewsHour)
6. A Soft Gaze Experiment
(Ben Griffith Artist)


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