making eye contact shapes social behavior

Scientific publications

Eye-to-eye contact is infrequent but shapes our social behavior

Resource Details

  • Written by

    Ieva Miseviciute

  • Read time

    2 min

When we talk to someone, much of our communication occurs nonverbally – through our body posture, hand gestures, and, not least, our eyes. During social interactions, eye gaze carries a wealth of information about our attention, intention, or psychological state. Such nonverbal communication through the eyes is mutual – we “read” the information from others’ eyes and signal it back with ours. Where do we exactly look to acquire nonverbal information from the eyes? Is looking at the face area enough, or does it need eye-to-eye contact?

The researchers from McGill University and Université du Québec à Montréal opted to address these questions by recording the looking behavior in live interacting dyads. The study participants (who were strangers to one another) were presented with imaginary survival scenarios (“Winter” or “Desert”) and were asked to rank a list of items (e.g., chocolate bar, compass) in order of their usefulness for survival. The participants wore Tobii Pro eye tracking glasses, allowing researchers to measure and characterize mutual looks during the interaction. The researchers analyzed how often the participants looked at each other in the eye and mouth regions during the interaction. After the live interaction, the researchers tested each participant individually on how different types of mutual looks during the live interaction (i.e., eye-to-eye vs. eye-to-mouth) would be linked to the tendency to follow others’ gaze.

The study results showed that during the live interaction, the participants spent more time looking away from their partner’s face than looking at each other’s faces (i.e., looking at the mouth or the eye region). However, when they did look at each other’s faces, they mostly looked in the mouth region and spent little time in direct eye-to-eye contact. The time spent looking directly into each other’s eyes predicted subsequent gaze-following behavior. In other words, those who look directly into the eyes while talking were more likely to follow their partner’s gaze subsequently.

Overall, the study found that direct eye-to-eye contact between people during social interaction is rare, at least when interacting with previously unacquainted individuals. However, looking directly into each other’s eyes while talking will influence the successive social behavior of an individual.

Publication

Mayrand, F., Capozzi, F. & Ristic, J. A dual mobile eye tracking study on natural eye contact during live interactions. Sci Rep 13, 11385 (2023).

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Resource Details

  • Written by

    Ieva Miseviciute

  • Read time

    2 min

    Resource type

    • Scientific publications

    Tagged products

    • Eye trackers

    Tagged solutions

    • Scientific research

Author

  • Tobii employee

    Ieva Miseviciute, Ph.D.

    SCIENCE WRITER, TOBII

    As a science writer, I get to read peer-reviewed publications and write about the use of eye tracking in scientific research. I love discovering the new ways in which eye tracking advances our understanding of human cognition.

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