Eye contact – we’re often told how important it is if we want to connect with others, but can we do it too much?
As you might expect there is a lot of research in this area and whilst much of it supports the idea that, in general, eye contact is a positive thing, this week I wanted to highlight some research that suggests looking away now and again might be useful too.
The research in question was undertaken by psychologist Alan Johnston and colleagues at University College London. in it they asked 400 volunteers to watch a video where actors were making various amounts of eye contact with the viewer and measured how comfortable the volunteers were in various scenarios. As you might expect, the results were very interesting.
The results indicated that constant eye contact isn’t necessarily a good idea – I suspect that is obvious – but can you guess how long direct eye contact had a positive impact on the volunteers before they began to feel uncomfortable? The answer is 3.2 seconds, however the research also suggested that people are comfortable with a longer gaze if they feel those they are interacting with are trustworthy as opposed to threatening.
An additional insight that the research posed (and as described in Scientific American Mind) was that “our reaction to prolonged eye contact may be linked to how we perceive ourselves, too. Johnston and his colleagues found that the more cooperative and warm subjects believed themselves to be, the longer they liked eye contact to be held. Johnston speculates that the more socially comfortable a person feels, the more he or she may “enjoy the intimacy of mutual gaze.””
This week I challenge you to become more aware of the eye contact that you make when interacting and see what feels right in what situation; it really is a fascinating area.
Thanks for your interest and I’ll see you in a week’s time to explore some more meetology® – the fascinating psychology powering exceptional people skills.
Have a good week,