Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 10/12/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
WASHINGTON -- 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 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.
Interesting finding No. 1: Participants who agreed with the pundits before even watching the videos stared more at their eyes. Apparently when you are in the process of bonding with someone over a shared fervour for college-tuition reductions, you want to drink in her gaze -- this aligns with previous research linking eye contact to "affiliative behaviours."
Unsurprisingly, these participants reported watching the videos did not shift their thinking on the issues, since the pundits were just voicing opinions they already held. But of the volunteers who disagreed with the videos, those who stared into the eyes of the recorded speakers were also more likely to stand firm. Volunteers who looked away -- at the speakers' lips or at the ground, for instance -- were more frequently persuaded to change their minds.
In a second experiment, Chen and Minson made two tweaks to their procedure: They presented volunteers only with videos they were inclined to disagree with, and they instructed the volunteers to focus on either the speaker's eyes or mouth the whole time. Interesting finding No. 2: Participants in the eye condition were less persuaded by the pre-recorded arguments than those in the mouth condition.
According to the researchers, this may be because eye contact -- long associated with romantic spaghetti dinners and intense spiritual communion -- is actually really intimidating and scary.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 D4
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Supreme Court allows challenge to Colorado Internet tax law
Los Angeles developer makes offer for shuttered Revel casino
BlackBerry to offer 4 new phones, speeds shift to software
Ikea launches furniture with inbuilt wireless chargers
Rogers Communications suffers security breach
Commons seeks to accept online petitions
Google to offer own cellular network plan
Dutch chipmaker NXP to buy Freescale Semiconductor for $12B
Samsung ditches plastic design, adds mobile pay in new phone
BlackBerry deepens partnership with Samsung
This syringe will self-destruct in...
Let the music move you
Uber says database containing driver info was breached
AmEx adds perks to popular charge card, but increases fee
Facebook adds new gender option for users: fill in the blank
Taste Canada, Food Bloggers launch new award
Judge orders suspension of WhatsApp in Brazil
Regulators approve tougher rules for Internet providers
Barnes & Noble to keep Nook digital business after all
FCC allows city-owned Internet providers to expand
Constellation Software Q4 profit slumps 7 %
Federal jury orders Apple to pay $532.9M in patent dispute
Google releases work tools designed for Android phones
'Forza' creators revving up 'Fast & Furious' video game
Correction: Target-Free Shipping story