Look Me In The Eyes
The classic persuasion technique might not be so effective, after all.
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The Responsibility Project
Most people would believe that the more eye contact, the better. But that’s not always necessarily true. According to a new study, published online in the journal Psychological Science by researchers from the University of British Columbia, when it comes to the art of persuasion or conflict resolution, a stare-down may in fact be counterproductive.
As the Washington Post noted, the results of direct eye contact depend on the context: “Between a mother and her infant, eye contact helps build a stronger connection. Exchanging flirty glances across a crowded bar heightens attraction and activates pleasure centers in the brain.”
On the other hand, the study’s coauthor Julia A. Minson told the Post, “Eye contact is a very intimate thing. So when you’re in a situation that feels confrontational, I think it’s more likely to put people off.”
In the study, the researchers had 20 subjects share their opinions on issues likely to cause contention, such as assisted suicide, and then watched recorded talks by a speaker on the topics. Researchers used eye-tracking technology to determine when and if volunteers were looking into the eyes of the person in the recording. When participants agreed, they were more likely to establish eye contact than when they disagreed. To test it again, the researchers had the volunteers watch more videos, but sometimes they were told to look into the speaker’s eyes, and other times they were instructed to looks at the speaker’s lips. Those who looked into the speaker’s eyes were less likely to change their opinions compared with participants focusing on the speaker’s lips.
Of course, the classic idea about the shifting gaze is that it is, well, shifty. But even the FBI has written that the gaze is only one of a number of factors that goes into evaluating a person’s state of mind – and isn’t a reliable indicator on its own. Plus, Minson asserts, most people aren’t accustomed to making consistent eye contact. “Your eyes naturally go back and forth between the eyes and the mouth. There’s also some time when your eyes just wander around.”
Do you pay attention to someone’s gaze when they’re trying to persuade or confront you? Do you make a conscious effort to make eye contact if you want to be perceived as telling the truth? Weigh in.