Eye Gaze in Human Interactions
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Eye Gaze in Human Interactions

Human eyes are strikingly different from other primates. They can be open and beautiful, or indicate another is not safe. Apparently, unlike many other species, eye gaze has a significant role to play in human communication. As the old saying says, eyes are the windows to the soul, but there is now an emerging science behind the power of eye gaze that can help us to know more about the importance of eye gaze in human interactions.

There are now various studies that show us how eye gaze, or lack of mutual gaze, affects us mentally and emotionally. For example, a research study on human behavior and technology proposes that a lack of eye gaze is the chief contributor to the negative effects of online disinhibition. 1 Online disinhibition is basically the lack of restraint someone feels when communicating online, in comparison to communicating to another in-person.

It is now known for adults, making eye gaze with another person improves self-awareness. 2 The direction of our gaze plays a larger role in social communication as well. Eye gaze keeps social interactions stimulating and exciting, but there can also be a negative impact on us via gaze if a person is unsafe or threatening.

Communication through Gaze

All of us might have experienced this at least a few times in life – getting our eyes locked with someone in a crowded and noisy room and thinking: should we continue to gaze or look away. It is common for human beings to make assumptions about people based on the eye contact or gaze they establish with another person. Recent studies on the power of eye contact by neuroscientists and psychologists help us to understand more about its power, which includes communication through gaze.

A recent study conducted by Michelle Jarick and Renee Bencic explores further how eye gaze impacts human communication by sending and receiving signals. 3 For the study, dyads were engaged in eye contact and averted gaze naturally, blindfolded, and with sunglasses. It shows that the participants exhibited the highest degree of arousal when making direct eye contact without any obstruction. When the eye contact was barred by

sunglasses or blindfolded the arousal was decreased significantly, but this really just makes perfect sense. But this study does show that arousal from eye contact happens through sending and receiving signals. The possibility of social interaction decreases when the visibility of the eyes is obstructed by the use of sunglasses or decreased direct eye contact. Interestingly, there was no arousal enhancement when the participant made eye contact with themselves in a mirror, again validating we send and receive communication via gaze.

Here is the takeaway – sending or receiving signals through gaze will not be communicated clearly when using sunglasses during social interaction or when direct gaze signals are blocked as this decreases arousal or reduces attention. In a nutshell, one should avoid using sunglasses while engaging in social interaction or increase direct eye gaze interaction to make their social interactions more engaging and powerful. Basically, if you care about someone – give them your full attention, with your eyes too.

Eye Gaze in SAD

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a common mental health condition in people that causes people emotional difficulty when they are exposed to social settings. Even our eyes are perceiving safety and ‘looking for it’. A research paper published by Lars Schulze, Babette Renneberg, and Janek S. Lobmaier in 2013 says that the avoidance of eye contact in social anxiety could be an attempt to avoid signs of social threat. 4 It is an effort to regulate excessive fears of being evaluated or judged that can trigger our feeling of safety. Furthermore, if unconscious, this avoidance behavior may negatively reinforce expectations and fears of social encounters and thus contribute to the maintenance of Social Anxiety Disorder. The study sums up that people with social anxiety may show a greater self-referential perception of gaze along with a pronounced fear of direct eye contact. 5 But there is far too much focus on the negative experience in medical journals. What the person really requires is eye gaze that is less judgemental, caring and not threatening. What is abnormal about that?

While most mammals and primates find direct gaze a dominating gesture, humans often find mutual gaze as a positive experience. Since the very early

sunglasses or blindfolded the arousal was decreased significantly, but this really just makes perfect sense. But this study does show that arousal from eye contact happens through sending and receiving signals. The possibility of social interaction decreases when the visibility of the eyes is obstructed by the use of sunglasses or decreased direct eye contact. Interestingly, there was no arousal enhancement when the participant made eye contact with themselves in a mirror, again validating we send and receive communication via gaze.

Here is the takeaway – sending or receiving signals through gaze will not be communicated clearly when using sunglasses during social interaction or when direct gaze signals are blocked as this decreases arousal or reduces attention. In a nutshell, one should avoid using sunglasses while engaging in social interaction or increase direct eye gaze interaction to make their social interactions more engaging and powerful. Basically, if you care about someone – give them your full attention, with your eyes too.

Eye Gaze in SAD

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a common mental health condition in people that causes people emotional difficulty when they are exposed to social settings. Even our eyes are perceiving safety and ‘looking for it’. A research paper published by Lars Schulze, Babette Renneberg, and Janek S. Lobmaier in 2013 says that the avoidance of eye contact in social anxiety could be an attempt to avoid signs of social threat. 4 It is an effort to regulate excessive fears of being evaluated or judged that can trigger our feeling of safety. Furthermore, if unconscious, this avoidance behavior may negatively reinforce expectations and fears of social encounters and thus contribute to the maintenance of Social Anxiety Disorder. The study sums up that people with social anxiety may show a greater self-referential perception of gaze along with a pronounced fear of direct eye contact. 5 But there is far too much focus on the negative experience in medical journals. What the person really requires is eye gaze that is less judgemental, caring and not threatening. What is abnormal about that?

While most mammals and primates find direct gaze a dominating gesture, humans often find mutual gaze as a positive experience. Since the very early

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    References

    1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0747563211002317
    2. https://digest.bps.org.uk/2014/09/26/eye-contact-makes-us-more-aware-of-our-own-bodies/
    3. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01262/full
    4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00872/full
    5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12082186/
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