Moments of eye contact signal that two people are in peak focus when they talk to each other, signaling when we have achieved shared understanding.
According to new research, it helps us connect, keeps a conversation going, and helps avoid stale conversation.
For the study, 94 students wore eye-tracking glasses during 10-minute conversations, which researchers videotaped. After the talks, the participants watched the discussions and rated how engaged they were. The researchers looked at the participants’ pupils during instances of eye contact and found that people make eye contact as pupil synchrony is at its peak, meaning their pupils were dilating in synchrony.
As eye contact persisted, the scientists found that synchrony then decreased. They think that this is a good thing because too much synchrony can make a conversation boring. Eye contact may usefully disrupt synchrony momentarily to allow for a new thought or idea.
The study also demonstrated a link between instances of eye contact and higher levels of engagement during the conversation. The more we are in sync, the more eye contact we make.
- Wohltjen, S., & Wheatley, T. (2021). Eye contact marks the rise and fall of shared attention in conversation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118(37). doi: 10.1073/pnas.2106645118. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/118/37/e2106645118