Some of us make too much of it, but most of us aren’t making enough. Whether you’re male or female, single or married, eye contact can be a powerful social tool from the office to the bar. It’s one of the most fundamental keys to creating, sustaining and deepening attraction and rapport. Here’s why.
1. Eye Contact Builds Trust: A Northwestern University study published in the Journal of Participatory Medicine looked at 110 first-time interactions between doctors and patients. They found that doctors who gave greater eye contact were more trusted than those who gave less. So while the popularly held idea that a lack of eye contact means a person is lying is just a myth, it sort of doesn’t matter. The fact that people perceive those who don’t make much eye contact as untrustworthy is what’s important. And it doesn’t bode well for the shifty-eyed among us.
2. Eyes Truly Are the Windows to the Soul: At The Art of Charm, we encourage men to smile not just with their mouths but with their whole face, especially the eyes. There’s some science behind that, as an MIT study found that babies follow the eyes, not the head movements, of adults to find out what’s important. Similarly, you can study eye contact—or the lack thereof—to understand what’s important to the person you’re talking to. To put it bluntly, if a woman is interested in you, you’ll get a lot of it.
3. Eye Contact Communicates Intelligence: It’s established science that you are more likely to get a job if you make eye contact during a job interview. The suspected reason is that you communicate intelligence and competence through the eyes. The study linked above found another interesting fact: the more intelligent and competent you actually are, the less you need to make eye contact. So we reckon you can just stop reading right here, Mr. Buffett.
4. Eye Contact Is Sexy: A team of psychologists at Aberdeen University found that a happy face making direct eye contact was perceived as far more attractive than a pleasant-looking face averting its gaze. Here’s how the study worked: Participants were shown pictures of members of the opposite sex smiling, frowning, looking right at them and looking away. As it turned out, they actually preferred less attractive people who were looking at them to more attractive people who are not. This underscores the fact that attractiveness is about way more than just physical appearance. Confidence, charisma and warmth go a long way.
5. Eye Contact Diminishes Hostility: Here’s a weird study with some applications to real life: people are jerks on the Internet because they’re not making eye contact with the people that they’re being jerks to. The study was conducted at the University of Haifa and published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Participants sat in a room for a debate. One group shared personal details about themselves, while others had to have direct eye contact with the people they were debating. When eye contact wasn’t being made, participants were twice as hostile as when it was. Personal details didn't have nearly the same effect. So when you find yourself encountering resistance or even hostility, making eye contact can make all of the difference in the world. It fosters empathy and a greater sense of emotional understanding, which is pretty tough to troll.
6. Eye Contact Confers Status: Here’s one last study that’s a little strange and counterintuitive. Eye contact shows that you’re confident in the abilities of others. In a study published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, researchers reported that your boss thinks more of you the more that he gives you eye contact. This can apply elsewhere: When you’re out at a bar, talking to a woman, giving her eye contact provides her with value and status—assuming that’s something you want to happen, of course.