Meeting eyes

Why do we make repeated eye contact while talking?

When two people converse, their eyes meet in moments of “shared attention”, with their pupils dilating in synchrony, according to a Dartmouth study (PNAS).

According to lead author Sophie Wohltjen at Dartmouth, when two people converse, eye contact signals that shared attention is high — that they are in peak synchrony. As eye contact persists, that synchrony then decreases. “We think this is also good because too much synchrony can make a conversation stale. An engaging conversation requires at times being on the same page and at times saying something new. Eye contact seems to be one way we create a shared space while also allowing space for new ideas,” she said in a release.

According to this study, eye contact is made when two people in conversation are already in sync, and, if anything, eye contact seems to then help break that synchrony. Eye contact may usefully disrupt synchrony momentarily in order to allow for a new thought or idea.

The researchers studied pairs of Dartmouth students who were in conversation for 10 minutes by making them wear eye-tracking glasses. The conversation was audio and video recorded. The researchers looked at how pupillary synchrony increases and decreases around instances of eye contact. They found that people make eye contact as pupillary synchrony is at its peak. Pupillary synchrony then immediately decreases, only recovering again once eye contact is broken. The data also demonstrated a correlation between instances of eye contact and higher levels of engagement.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 3:28:41 PM |

Next Story