Sometimes it is difficult for us to look the other person in the eye: this phenomenon has a scientific explanation

In everyday life, we often use the following phrases: “eyes dart”, “promising look”, “strangely sparkling eyes”, “shoot with eyes”, “jinx”. The eyes are called the “mirror of the soul”, “window to the world”, “brain turned inside out”. Man himself is sometimes called a “big-eyed animal,” emphasizing that it is through vision that he receives most of the information from the world around him.

Without looking into your eyes

Conversation is the most common way of exchanging information. But there are situations when a person avoids looking his counterpart in the eyes. Psychologists have identified a number of reasons why a person looks away and does not look his interlocutor in the eyes during communication. He's not necessarily lying, although most people would think so. In fact, a person may avoid eye contact for a number of reasons:

  • shyness;
  • lack of desire to delve into the essence of the conversation;
  • manifestation of indecision;
  • sympathy for the interlocutor and shyness;
  • irritation;
  • lack of empathy for the partner;
  • attempt to deceive.

Practical picture

It's no wonder that the drama of realizing that we are an object for another mind is very distracting. Consider a recent study by Japanese scientists. Volunteers watched videos of faces while performing various tasks that involved coming up with verbs that would correspond to different nouns (for example, if they heard the noun “milk,” the appropriate answer would be “drink”). It's important to note that the volunteers thought about the word much more (but only for more complex nouns) when the face in the video appeared to be making eye contact with them. The researchers believe this effect occurred because eye contact—even with a stranger on video—is so intense that it depletes our cognitive reserves.

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A similar study found that facing another person's direct gaze also interferes with our working memory (our ability to hold and use information in our minds for short periods of time), our imagination, and our mental control in the sense of our ability to suppress irrelevant information. You may have experienced this effect directly when you stopped making eye contact with another person in order to better concentrate on what you were saying or thinking. Some psychologists even recommend looking away to help young children answer questions.

Why is it important to make eye contact when speaking?

A strong and confident look speaks of a person’s strength. It is not enough to speak confidently and back up your words with actions, you need to behave like a confident person. This can be done using your gaze. Reasons why direct eye contact can be very important:

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  • a confident look elevates you in the eyes of another person;
  • is a sign of confidence and serious intentions;
  • speaks of openness and honesty.

Why is it important to make eye contact when speaking? How to learn not to be afraid to look people in the eyes? Most often, people do not look their interlocutor in the eyes because of fear and uncertainty. But a direct gaze builds trust and helps build relationships.


I see by the eyes also means “I see by the pupils.” If a person can change the oval of the eyes consciously, then the size of the pupils changes on its own, depending on the situation. The pupils mean they are very truthful.


Excitation signal. It is subconsciously perceived positively by others. This means that the person is currently friendly, has a friendly attitude, wants to make a good impression, and does not feign kindness, is responsive to you, and takes you to heart.


Signal of hostility. The complete opposite - there is no warmth, friendliness, goodwill or concern for you. The attitude is selfish, not cordial.


The size of the pupil also depends on external factors. For example, lighting, wind, flashing elements and even noise around. Agree that when there is bad weather, wind, hurricane and noise around, it is difficult to look at your interlocutor with dilated pupils in love. In the dark, the pupils are dilated to let as much light as possible onto the retina, and in bright light the pupils are constricted. You can also guess from the pupils about the visual acuity of your interlocutor. Myopic people most often have dilated pupils, especially when they do not wear glasses for a long time. Farsighted people, on the contrary, have constricted pupils. If you take these factors into account quickly and accurately, you will draw the right conclusions about a person’s mood and be able to tell him “I can see you in your eyes.”

Scientific research

Research from Kyoto University shows that during face-to-face communication, the brain becomes confused because it is unable to manage two apparently independent processes at the same time. To better understand what happens in the brain during a conversation, scientists asked 26 volunteers to take part in an association game, and each had to use a default noun to which they had to add a verb as quickly as possible. At the same time, they looked at photographs of people. In some of the pictures people made eye contact, while in others they looked away.

The first tasks were relatively simple: the standard word “knife” was easily answered with “cut” or “cut.” For the noun “ball,” the word chosen most often was “throw.” Other associations were more complex, for example, for the noun “folder” they selected the words “open”, “close”, “delete”, “search”, etc. In addition, it was more difficult for respondents to find associations when looking at a picture of a person, who looked into their eyes.

The other side of the view

For example, staring grabs and holds our attention, making us less aware of what else is going on around us. Additionally, meeting someone's gaze almost immediately triggers a lot of brain processes as we realize that we are dealing with the intelligence of another person who is currently looking at us. As a result, we become more aware of the other person's free will, that they have their own mind and point of view, and this in turn makes us more self-aware.

You may have noticed these effects especially strongly if you've ever held the intense gaze of a chimpanzee or orangutan in a zoo: it's almost impossible not to be pierced by the deep sense that they are a conscious being, judging and studying you. In fact, even looking at a portrait that is drawn with eye contact triggers a burst of brain activity associated with social cognition—that is, in the areas of the brain involved in thinking about oneself and others.

Scientists' conclusions

Although these two actions seem independent, people often look away from the other person during a conversation. Thus, scientists assume that both of these processes are connected. The effect was more pronounced when people tried to find a verb that went with less common nouns, so it follows that this activity uses the same parts of the brain as eye contact. The results show that in such situations, the brain, to avoid overload, breaks eye contact and concentrates on solving a word problem.

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The Chemistry of Eye Contact

Another documented effect of mutual gaze may help explain why that moment of eye contact in a room can sometimes seem so compelling. A recent study found that mutual gaze leads to a kind of partial fusion of self and stranger: We rate strangers with whom we make eye contact as more similar to us in terms of their personality and appearance. Perhaps, in the right context, when everyone else is busy talking to other people, this effect creates the feeling that you and the person looking at you have a special connection.

The chemistry of eye contact doesn't end there. If you decide to move closer, you and your gaze partner will find that eye contact also connects you to each other in a different way than described above, known as “student imitation” or “pupil contagion”—your and the other person's pupils dilate and contract in sync. This was interpreted as a form of subconscious social mimicry, a kind of ocular dance, and it was more than romantic.

But lately there has been some skepticism about this theory, with some scientists saying the phenomenon is essentially just a response to changes in the brightness of another person's eyes (up close, when the other person's pupils dilate, the darkness of the scene increases, thereby causing your pupils to dilate as well) .

Facial expressions, gaze, posture and gestures

Under the influence of the feelings experienced by a person, coordinated contractions and relaxations of various facial structures are born. They determine facial expressions that perfectly reflect the emotions being experienced. Since it is not difficult to learn to control the state of the facial muscles, they often try to mask or even imitate the display of emotions on the face. Knowing facial expressions during various emotions is useful not only for understanding others, but also for carefully practicing your working imitations.

The sincerity of human emotions is usually indicated by symmetry in the display of feelings on the face, while the stronger the falsehood, the more the facial expressions of its right and left halves differ.

Even easily recognizable facial expressions are sometimes very short-lived (fractions of a second) and often go unnoticed; To be able to intercept it, you need a lot of practice or special training. At the same time, positive emotions (joy, pleasure) are recognized more easily than negative ones (sadness, shame, disgust). A person’s lips are particularly emotional, and they are not difficult to read: for example, increased facial expressions or biting of lips, for example, indicate anxiety, and a mouth twisted to one side indicates skepticism or ridicule.

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