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The Power of Eye Contact

“I knew that we were meant to be, when we met our eyes just connected” is a common story of how couples and lovers meet. There is a saying that the “eyes are the windows to the soul”, but what this really means is that the eyes give us cues to the emotional states of others. The eyes are the most expressive part of the body and the most difficult to control. The sclera of our eyes and muscles surrounding them reacts differently to different emotional states in humans.

The most easily detectable emotions through the eyes are fear, anger and surprise. These emotions have the largest exposure of sclera(the white area surrounding the iris) giving the big eyed look.

Simple eye anatomy. Sclera and upper/lower eye lid.

Simple eye anatomy. Sclera and upper/lower eye lid.

What angry people tend to display is a “glare look”, which is when the upper eyelid is raised and the brow is lowered. The upper eyelid is raised and the lower eyelid becomes tense. This look is very powerful and easily recognizable.

Notice the lower eyelid becoming tense, and upper eyelid lowering.

Notice the lower eyelid becoming tense, and upper eyelid lowering.

When we are happy, there are more muscle movements around the eyes forming what is known as the “Duchenne smile”. This smile is accompanied by involuntary facial movements around the cheeks and produces crows feet wrinkles. It is said that the absence of this smile can detect a false friend.

Picture B is the real Duchenne smile. Notice the curved muscles on the outside of the eye.

Picture B is the real Duchenne smile. Notice the curved muscles on the outside of the eye.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, and without being able to read a persons emotional state through the eyes, our ancestors would have died out. Think about all of the opportunities you would have missed if you were not able to read or sense somebodies emotion through the eyes. You would miss the ability to detect fear, anger, sadness, happiness, and attraction.

So what is so special about eye contact in this day and age? Well first off, many people don’t engage in it correctly because they are either afraid or are just not used to that form of intimate communication. Eye Contact is one of the powerful forces of human face-to-face interaction. If done correctly and with good intention it can help you land a date. It can help you deepen your connection with the ones you know and love. It can make or break group cohesion and co-operation. It can help you appear confident in landing that interview or job.

Girls, imagine an evening out with a significant other and the man tells you they love you while looking down at your chest! EEKK!! This is why eye contact is very crucial and important. But how do you get it right?

Simple.You practice.

Practice makes perfect. Really. Trust me. I have done these exercises and they have gave me more confidence in my everyday and close social interactions. Oh yes and when i asked employers why they decided to hire me one said, you had this sparkle in your eye. Score!

To become eye confident there are simple exercises you can follow. I have used Michael Ellsberg’s book “The Power of Eye Contact” as a guide and I will include some tips for you to use.

Steps to becoming EYE CONFIDENT.

It is perfectly normal to be nervous about this process. As many people aren’t used to looking into each others eyes for no more than 1 or 2 seconds at a time.  You are already a great step ahead by just wanting to improve this skill! Good job!

  1. Start small at making progressive eye contact : Grab a friend or family member who is willing to try gradual eye contact practices with you. Explain to them your interest and the great benefits of eye contact and give it a go for the next step!
  • Sit across from each other at a comfortable distance approximately a chairs or table length away depending on comfort.
  • First look each other in the eye for one second, then look away. Look at each eye individually not into both at the same time this might feel un natural.
  • Then look for five seconds. It is okay to laugh and make weird comments jokes now, don’t worry they don’t know what you are thinking, trust me, even psychologists can’t figure this out!- lol
  • Now ten seconds
  • Thirty seconds
  • One minute
  • Three minutes

Some tips for this exercise:

Breathe- seriously it’s okay! Don’t treat it as a staring contest instead try softening your gaze by thinking kind thoughts about your eye contact buddy and be fascinated by how cool their eyes are! Have fun with it, and congratulate yourself for this great step in prolonged eye contact which many people never have the chance or courage to do!

2. Start making brief contact with strangers walking on the street

  • This one is harmless and easy! When walking along the street, when a person begins to walk towards you when they are about four to five paces away make brief eye contact with them only long enough to see their eye colour! That’s it! From past experience I have never had a person attempt to abduct me, in fact people are genuinely surprise and happy someone noticed them briefly. And they usually look away or smile, this is when I like to smile back! You never know you might get a conversation going!
  • The tip for this though is that I always break the eye contact by looking straight ahead not down. According to Ellseberg, looking down is a psychological sign of shame and dismisivness. “If you continuously practice breaking eye contact by looking down you’ll be continuously practicing a body tic associated with shame and submission which is not recommended.” (Ellseberg)

3. Make progressively longer eye contact with strangers such as waiters, salesclerks and Cashiers.

  • This is a great way to practice your eye contact skills as long as you do it in a friendly way! Many of them will be happy that you are making some authentic eye contact with them and treating them like a genuine human being instead of a (9-5pm robot)- more on that in another post!
  • For example when they ask you a question look into their eyes and give them an answer.
  • Sometimes these strangers will not respond right away with eye contact or at all because they are probably used to have inauthentic contact with strangers everyday. Don’t be one of the many, be original! YAY for Genuine Eye Contact!
  • Be friendly when practicing, everyone likes friendly people!

4. Make substantial eye contact during conversations with friends, family members, co-workers, and other people you know.

  • For this step, you need to start slow mainly because people you are close to are not familiar with your new skills and they might think that you are acting strange or overanalyzing them. Don’t worry if they ask explain that you are learning.
  • Maintain a nice space between the person you are talking to and don’t stare them down. To avoid this shift your eye contact to their eyes separately, and casually break away contact when it would feel appropriate even multiple times during the conversation.

5. Make substantial eye contact during conversations with people you’ve just met.

Use all the wonderful tricks and skills you have used to making great eye contact at parties, cocktail parties, subways, conferences and anywhere you desire!

You will notice a greater feeling of connection, sharing and trust with loved ones as well as strangers, and looking into peoples eyes will give you a new perspective about the world! Oh and did I mention it might also help land you a new friendly connection, friend or date 😉

Happy Eye gazing y’all!

About the Author: Nicole Noworyta is a student at the University of Toronto Pursuing a BSc in Psychology and CCIT. She has a strong passion for travel, and writes articles for our travel section. Nicole is also interested in human social psychology especially eye contact and body language cues!

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About NicoleNowo (6 Articles)
Nicole is a energetic, travel and party loving student at the University of Toronto! She also enjoys hot dogs, road trips and long walks on the beach with EDM music. Find her on Instagram: @nicolenoworyta Find her on Facebook: Nicole Noworyta -Cheers!

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