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New Brain Study Demonstrates the Importance of Eye Contact

Author:NeuroGym Team

Some people believe that the eyes are the window to the soul—a new study shows they are absolutely correct.

But eye contact can be awkward, especially if you are shy, have low self-esteem, or don’t really know the other person.

On the other hand, eye contact could be exactly what you need during a serious business meeting, when you are closing a sale, or want to get the attention of a love interest.

Science supports this idea, so let’s see (pun intended) how this works.

Synchronizing Movement

Have you ever sat in a conversation and realized that you and a friend took a sip of water at the same time? Or have you wondered why one person yawning triggers other people to do the same?

Automatic Mimicry

It’s a phenomenon called automatic mimicry.

It happens when two people do the same thing because they are in tune with each other.

Automatic mimicry can be considered synchronized movement because two people are moving in unison.

When you look someone in the eyes, you automatically have to synchronize eye movements to maintain contact.

A New Brain Study on Eye Contact

Synchronized eye movements must stir something in the brain as well since eyes can convey laughter, happiness, sadness, and many other emotions.

When one person in the pair has this kind of emotion, it’s quite likely that the other person will mirror the first person’s eye signals.

For this reason, scientists decided to conduct a study on eye contact using total strangers as part of the experiment. During the study, the researchers used MRIs to get imagery of the brains of participants.

Become Automatic

Did you know that automatic mimicry is just one form of automation that us humans have?

Yes! There are many other ways that we act automatically.

You can also teach your brain to be automatic in other ways so that you can work smarter, not harder.

Find out all the tips and tricks to do this at the Brain-A-Thon.

Activating the Social Brain

The researchers paired up strangers and connected them through a video feed. This way, each pair wasn’t physically in the room together but could see each other through the screen.

Participants were asked to look into the eyes of the person on the screen and think about what emotions they could be feeling.

To test whether eye contact really activates parts of the brain, the scientists sometimes created a short delay in the video feed so that it was no longer live but rather a replay. Either way, the results stayed the same.

Eye Blinks

When you make eye contact with a person, you can communicate without words because you are observing their eye movements. The most basic way to communicate with the eyes is through blinking.

Blinking is what the researchers used in the study to create communication between participants. Blinking also changes depending on the emotion a person experiences, so it creates mutual communication.

During conversations, participants tend to synchronize their blinking which indicates a mirrored response. It’s also indicative of the attention span between participants.

The scientists checked how eye blinks and associated attention span affected different parts of the brain during the experiment.

The Perceptual-Motor Linkage

During the brain study, only one pair of participants realized the difference between the live and replay videos. The rest of the participants didn’t notice any difference and still had a good connection with the person on the screen.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that eye contact activated the perceptual-motor connections in the brain without the participant being consciously aware of it.

The perceptual-motor linkage in the brain had similar activation in both participants. It’s the crucial component that switches on the social part of the brain during interactions with other people.

The Importance of Eye Contact

Eye contact generates all kinds of connections in the brain and allows you to communicate more effectively. It’s the reason you need eye contact for impactful conversations.

Enhancing Connectivity

The cortex is a part of the brain that hosts cognitive functions such as attention, mood regulation, and emotions. The anterior insular cortex (AIC) is an input system while the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is an output system.

Together, it creates the AIC-ACC networks. This network is found in the limbic mirror system and helps with recognizing affection and behavior.

Enhancing Self-Awareness

The AIC-ACC network allows you to be more self-aware. It stirs up similar emotions and reactions in you when communicating with someone else.

The only way for this to happen properly is to maintain eye contact with the other person during an interaction. As your limbic mirror system kicks in, your movements synchronize with the other person to such an exchange that you even share a similar mental state.

When this happens, communication flows better. It minimizes misunderstandings and makes it easier for participants to have an open mind.

Brain Connections

There are millions of connections within your brain, and each of them serves a specific purpose. Some of these pathways were created by you, as you learned and experienced different things in life.

It’s time for you to remove destructive, negative neural pathways from your life and build productive ones instead.

Learn how to do this and so much more at the Brain-A-Thon—a free virtual event with six top brain experts.

Eye Contact in Daily Life

The researchers clearly showed how eye contact affects socialization and communication. In your daily dealings with other people—whether they are friends, family, colleagues, or strangers—eye contact is essential. It shows you are sincere and have self-confidence.

Are you making proper eye contact, or do you look away to make it easier for yourself?

Maintaining Attention

When you make eye contact during a conversation, it’s easier for you to pay attention. If you break eye contact and look around the room, then other things get your attention which slows down your thinking.

The opposite is also true. It’s much easier for the other person to pay attention to you if you don’t break eye contact, so actually, you are helping both parties. If you stop looking at the person, then it’s much easier for them to gaze around and stop listening.

Portraying Confidence

As soon as you look someone in the eye when talking, it shows them you are sincere and confident about the topic. It lets the other person know that you are knowledgeable and believe in your statements.

The longer you maintain eye contact, the more confident you also become. You will start speaking assertively—even if the initial contact seemed a bit weird.

Better Communication

Eye contact makes you a better communicator. Besides helping with attention, it also encourages the other party to listen more, and you become an active listener when they respond.

Looking at someone else’s face is a mirror into their mind, too. You can immediately see when the other person is confused about what you are saying or looks tired. It allows you an opportunity to ask if they need clarification or a break.

Building Self-Esteem

It can be challenging to make eye contact if you aren’t that confident or have poor self-esteem. Saying you need to make eye contact can cause additional stress.

Luckily, you can overcome your nervousness about eye contact and build your self-esteem at the same time.

All you need to do is come up with a plan for how to make it work and believe in yourself by thinking differently about interactions with other people.

Below are some tips to help you do better with eye contact. Remember: Eye contact can boost your confidence, so it already helps your self-esteem.

Connect Immediately

Looking someone in the eye as soon as you see each other or start speaking is the best way to break the ice. It creates an instant connection that shows you want to interact.

Pair the initial eye contact with a smile, and you convey friendliness. It makes you more confident and helps you connect with the other person in a positive way.

Maintain Contact for Several Seconds

Once you make eye contact, try to keep it for about four or five seconds (longer if you can). It allows you to sync up blinking and activate your social brain.

Avoid Sudden Movements

Breaking eye contact suddenly can send the wrong message. It can make you seem distracted, shy, and uncertain of yourself.

It’s much better to look away slowly, preferably toward the side rather than gazing down. Only break eye contact for a second or two and then reconnect.

Adopt the 50/70 Rule

If you have low self-esteem, constant eye contact can be tough. In this case, you need to build up the contact period slowly until you are comfortable.

It can be useful to look at the person 50% of the time if you are the speaker. If you are the listener, then you have to show you are paying attention, so maintain eye contact for 70% of the discussion.

Become the Best Version of Yourself

Building confidence and self-esteem is just one aspect of being a better version of yourself, but you deserve to be the absolute best.

Attend the Brain-A-Thon and find out more about how you can do this. It’s the one event that will bring about amazing changes in your life.

About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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