Looking at the person speaking to us or being looked at by the person we are talking to is popularly regarded as a mark of interest to both people.
Many parents try to instill this reflex in their children at an early age, because not looking at someone who speaks to us can be considered rude.
Often, lack of eye contact is associated with shyness, guilt or lies. In some films dealing with the development of an election campaign, we can even see that the communication experts of the candidate advise him to declaim his speech by fixing the camera, as if he looked directly at his constituents in the eyes.
The longer we look someone in the eye, the closer we are to that person, or at ease with the subject. Thus, we can succeed in looking in the eyes of both people around us and strangers. Moreover, we often feel uncomfortable when we feel that someone fixes us.
A recent study, published in the journal Psychological Science and conducted by F. Chen of the University of Freiburg, proposes a reflection on this subject.
Consider the following situation: in a conversation between two people, one of them tries to rally the other to his cause on a particular subject. In such cases, if the argumentator makes a point of making eye contact with the other, then he will have done more than half of the work.
Even if one of the interlocutors is more convinced than the other, both share an affinity which will be reinforced by the eye contact.
Now imagine that the receiver of the arguments disagree with the argument; the look of trust then becomes a look filled with connotations of domination and intimidation.
The two interlocutors are positioned differently from each other, and the conversation is only an exchange of opposing arguments opposing each other.
In such conditions, an amused glance can calm the tension, or perhaps a way to make the discussion a little more friendly. Moreover, such a look can be considered as a sign of nobility showing that one is on his positions and that one will use unsubstantial tactics, the goal being to win the debate at all costs.
Finally, the study published in Psychological Science shows that in a context of persuasion, the exchange of glances can be an aid if we speak with someone who shares our opinion, or an obstacle if we speak with someone who does not agree with us.
As Chen himself says, "visual contact is such a primitive mechanism that it can generate many physiological changes with far-reaching consequences."