Few social interactions come close to the awkward trepidation surrounding first dates! Conclusions drawn in the first few minutes must be managed discretely as we either try and impress the other person or simply endure the experience before making a swift exit. Add eye tracking to the equation and you have a very revealing third wheel onboard, indicating more information than either person would likely be willing to put into words.
In a recent study, What Do You Look at on a First Date by Function, a video channel focused on science and technology, the dynamic of daters was put to the test. Seven people were part of the experiment which was supervised by dating agency Three Day Rule.
Fitted with Tobii Pro Glasses, the participants had several ‘first dates’ lasting 7 – 12 minutes. Their conversations were recorded on the scene camera and their gaze mapped throughout the interaction. The near-infrared illuminators and four small cameras take up to 100 pictures a second, so every glance, no matter how quick, is captured.
While people are usually successful at maintaining general conversation, much is revealed by their subconscious actions, in particular, where they look. Those participants who wanted a second date, focused on their partner’s face 36% of the time, compared to 30% for those who didn’t. “Eye tracking offers a unique vantage point on the non-verbal communication that goes on during a date” says TDR consultant Caitlin Cooper.
In terms of eye contact, a clear indicator of the level of social interaction between a couple, the technology was able to reveal a disparity between those who enjoyed their match and those who didn’t. One participant who said he felt no “spark” only looked at his date’s eyes 7% of the time, compared to the group average of 11%.
“The average person is completely unaware of how much is being said through just their body language,” explains Ms Cooper. In one mutually awkward part of the experiment, one dater with a low-cut top saw just how much attention was focused on her chest. However, the experiment also revealed human reactions out of our control. The pupal diameter of those who enjoyed their date’s company was larger than those who did not, with averages of 5.53mm and 5.27mm respectively.
Eye tracking technology has an established track record in providing insight into human behavior, social interactions, and how people perceive one another.
There is great value in this technology for assessing many elements of human emotion and perception. The Anxiety Research and Treatment Clinic at the University of Miami used eye tracking to examine the attention processes of people with social anxiety disorders. They wanted to know if these people focused more on negative facial expressions than neutral ones, a situation which might also reinforce their fears by making these negative experiences seem more common than they really are. The study confirmed this hypothesis, leading researchers to develop special cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea being, the more they were trained to focus on less negative expressions the less attention they naturally gave them over time.
Using eye tracking, scientists have also been able to develop screening tests for children on the autism spectrum by examining their eye movements and focus during social interactions. In this way clear patterns of visual behavior became apparent in children with the condition.