Eye Contact Makes You Less Persuasive, Say Researchers


I’ve often wondered why eye contact—which is supposed to make you feel good, because your conversational partner is paying attention to you and not her phone!—can actually feel like an attempt to vacuum out your soul through your eyeballs. Unless the circumstances are exactly right, the midair meeting of two gazes can be awkward and unsettling. Better to examine a shoe. Better to only speak from within a cave, engulfed in fumes, like the oracle at Delphi.

We’re told that eye contact is a powerful thing. Hypnotists (and vampires) use it to get inside your head; public speakers use it to create an emotional connection. Parents tell kids to “look at me when I’m talking to you,” because returning a gaze is supposed to communicate receptivity. But is it true that staring directly into someone’s pupils gives you special powers of persuasion over him or her?

Eye contact is the topic of a new paper in the journal Psychological Science. Wondering whether college students were more or less likely to agree with a speaker after gazing into her eyes, authors Frances S. Chen and Julia A. Minson of the University of British Columbia hatched two experiments. In the first, 20 participants completed surveys indexing where they stood on a series of flashpoint issues, including assisted suicide, nuclear energy, and university tuition. The volunteers then wore eye-tracking technology while viewing Internet videos of people arguing for or against those same controversies.

Read the whole story: Slate

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