As human beings, we are programmed to register something as incomplete if it lacks human presence. Be it a picture with no individual in it or a book without characters, our minds need a subject. Otherwise, things would lack meaning. Hence, it comes as no surprise that our eyes search for people when we go anywhere at all. We spend a great portion of our lives observing others, with particular emphasis on their faces. From a very young age we are instructed to make eye contact when we speak to others. Anyone avoiding eye contact would seem disinterested in the conversation, and be bound make the other person uncomfortable.
Art of Looking Into Others Minds Through Their Eyes
Psychologists have attempted to study this phenomenon by studying the movements of their subjects’ eyes, as they are displayed images of other individuals on a screen. They learned that the subjects, during the course of the study, focused more time on the people on the screen than on other objects competing for their attention. Others, however, have contended this theory, highlighting that our behavior differs when we are out in the open with people around us.
Ironically, while growing up, we are also instructed not to stare. In reality, this is shaped by our perception of whether we can get caught or not. Experiments resonate this notion; in a room of strangers, individuals would rather stare at a brick wall than at someone they did not know. Meanwhile, when individuals were shown a live footage of a stranger in another room, they put their focus on the stranger. Psychologists have labelled the phenomenon “civil inattention”. Our gaze represents what we our mind focuses on and hence, what interests it.
In personal interactions, a number of factors determine whether we maintain or break eye contact. In an experiment to identify these factors, subjects were led to believe they were interacting with other participants through a video. Researchers found the subjects held eye contact with the other participants, when the latter were assumed to be socially poorer, but looked away when the latter was assumed to be socially superior. When the subjects were told the others could not view them, the results were shocking; they now paid more attention to the perceived superior than the perceived inferior.
These phenomena, rather than being something to be embarrassed about, should be accepted as social norm. Eyes are the window of the soul for a reason, and can be used to form real connections with those around us.
Also Read: What Do Your Eyes Say About You
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