Ever locked eyes with a lover and felt the thrill of a longing gaze returned? Turns out they’re just as likely to have been looking at your forehead, chin or even your ear.
Researchers at Edith Cowan University have revealed humans don’t meet each other’s gaze nearly as often we think.
Using eye-tracking technology, they discovered a partner’s gaze only needs to be aimed somewhere at our head for us to be convinced of their undying attention.
“Maintaining strong eye contact is widely accepted to be an important communication skill in western cultures,” says lead researcher Shane Rogers.
“People believe if you aren’t willing to engage in soul-to-soul mutual eye contact then you are at best lacking in confidence, at worst, untrustworthy.
“However, the reverence devoted to eye contact is not supported by scientific evidence.”
During the study, researchers engaged in short conversations with dozens of subjects, looking primarily at the eyes in only half of these. In the others, they looked mostly at the mouth.
Surprisingly, when asked about it afterwards the subjects couldn’t tell the difference. They were just as likely to think eye contact had been maintained for the entire conversation, regardless of whether it actually had.
So, what should we make of this slightly disappointing news?
Dr Rogers suggests using it to our advantage.
“People are not very sensitive to the specific gaze focus of their partner to their face; instead they perceive direct gaze towards their face as eye contact,” he says.
“So don’t get hung up on seeking out the eyes of your audience, just look generally at their face, and let the eye contact illusion experienced by your partner do the work for you.”
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