The reason why eye contact is so powerful
The adage “eyes are the windows to the soul” is not a mere cliché. As one of the most prominent forms of nonverbal communication, eye contact can have significant influence on the way we socialise and process information.
Extra brain power
Have you ever met the gaze of a dog or a monkey? You may get the impression that they are a smart, conscious being that is capable of judging you. This may not be far off – direct gaze indicates “sophisticated human-like minds” which are capable of social interaction, making us more aware of the other’s agency.
When we lock gazes with someone, our brain immediately engages in a series of activities to take in the fact that we are dealing with the mind of the person who is looking at us. These processes turn out to draw on the same mental resources we use for complex tasks, making it more difficult to perform cognitive functions – such as memorising facts, imagining visuals and focusing on relevant information – at the same time.
A 2016 Japanese study found that people performed worse in a verbal word test when they were instructed to look into another person’s eyes on a screen. This shows how maintaining eye contact can drain our mental bandwidth.
Bonding and social cues
Eye contact also has significant impacts on how we perceive each other. We assume people who make eye contact with us to be more sociable, intelligent, trustworthy, and conscientious. We also tend to believe these people to have more self-control and be more similar to us in terms of personality and appearance.
However, locking eyes should also be done in moderation. A British study discovered that people on average are most comfortable with eye contact that lasts for three seconds.
Because of this, it’s no wonder that many people think of eye contact as a form of intimacy. As windows to our souls, the eyes allow us to get a glimpse into other people’s minds – but it also gives away what’s inside of ours.