One of the primal ways of communication is by means of eye contact. It serves a central role in mother-child bonding.
Actually, research conducted in the 1940s showed that the image of two eyes is the minimal visual stimulus infants require to bring out a smile. We also know that eye contact increases adults’ brain activity and heart rates.
Gazing vs. Eye Contact
However, prior to going any further, let’s differentiate between gazing and making eye contact. Gazing refers to searching different points on the person’s face in addition to the eyes; we might be unfocused by a mole on the right cheek or caught by the peculiar way he/she turns up their mouth. Eye contact indicates looking into the other person’s eyes.
Combination of Gazing and Eye Contact
Even though we may desire eye contact with others, it is a rule of nonverbal communication that no one maintains it exclusively or continuously. We maintain eye contact just about 60 percent of the time during interactions. That means most normal everyday interactions are a mixture of gazing and eye contact.
In the course of a thirty-second interaction, research tracking the eyes has shown that people will look at fifteen different spots on or near the face, together with the unusual design on the frame of a friend’s glasses, tan ear popping out of her hair, her nonverbal affect, the unusual way she moves her lips in conjunction with her eyes. We can predict you will take part in more eye contact if:
- You are discussing easy, unfriendly topics.
- There is nothing else to observe.
- You like or love your partner.
- You are interested in your partner’s reactions; you’re interpersonally involved.
- You are trying to dominate or influence your partner.
- You are from a culture that highlights visual contact in interaction.
- You are an assertive person.
- You have high affiliation needs or inclusion needs.
- You are listening rather than talking.
- You are a male and are more physically distant from your partner.
Study On Eye Contact
Patricia Webbink , a psychologist who has studied the eyes and their place in human communication for more than two decades, defines eye contact as, “The mutual communication that occurs when two pairs of eyes meet.” It plays a compelling role in interpersonal bonding, she explains.
“In a world distinguished by mechanization, threats of violence, and social alienation, the need for increased interaction between people is obvious. The power of eye contact is very real: the mutual gaze is a major form of communication that promotes familiarity.”
In fact, many deaf people require eye contact in interactions; they depend heavily on the emotions expressed in the eyes to supplement the vocal intonations they miss in the discussion.