Eyes not the "windows to the soul" - not quite

We have been fed in literature and cinema that making eye contact is the best way to connect with someone when making a conversation. A new research by researchers at the Edith Cowan University has debunked this idea now. The study titled, “Contact Is in the Eye of the Beholder: The Eye Contact Illusion,” was published in the latest issue of the journal Perception.

Image Credit: Jack Frog / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Jack Frog / Shutterstock

The team of researchers used eye tracking technology and found that people do not have to make direct eye contact to be able to make a connection during a face-to-face conversation. Looking at a part of the face – the nose, ears, chin or forehead – can all make the same connection.

According to Lead author Dr Shane Rogers, from the School of Arts and Humanities this is welcome news for individuals suffering from social anxiety who find it difficult to make eye contact during a conversation. Dr Rogers said, “Maintaining strong eye contact is widely accepted to be an important communication skill in western cultures... People believe if you aren't willing to engage in soul-to-soul mutual eye contact then you are at best lacking in confidence, at worst, untrustworthy. However, the reverence devoted to eye contact is not supported by scientific evidence.”

The researchers engaged in a four minute conversation with 46 participants individually. Both of the participants in the conversation were made wear Tobii eye tracking glasses. Dr Rogers said that for around half of the participants, the researchers looked at the eyes of the participant and for the other half they stared at the mouths.

At the end of the conversation, the participants had to rate how much they enjoyed the conversation. Dr Rogers said, “The mouth group perceived the same amount of eye contact and enjoyed the conversations just as much as the eye group.” He explained that people were not too specific about where the gaze focussed during the conversation but a direct gaze was taken as a direct eye contact. He concluded, “don't get hung up on seeking out the eyes of your audience, just look generally at their face, and let the eye contact illusion experienced by your partner do the work for you.”

Ananya Mandal

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Ananya Mandal

Ananya is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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