Depending on the context, eye contact can have a variety of effects on an individual—from triggering an enhanced memory to inspiring altruistic behavior.
Whether you’re locking eyes with your life partner, or getting a bad gut feeling from exchanging glances with a stranger, the eyes can provide access to a wealth of ambiguous, beneath-the-surface information. Researchers suggest that humans as young as two days old use eye contact to gauge the mental states of others, which could signal initial social skill development. In a study conducted by the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, researchers also found that you’re more likely to remember someone’s identity if they’ve looked you in the eyes. That means you could start making yourself more memorable today by wielding the power of eye contact. Give it a try.
The power behind our gaze
Not only can eye contact increase the likelihood of remembering someone, but it can also serve as a judgmental gaze to inspire “good” behavior in others. In another study investigating the impact of eye contact on human behavior in a game setting, participants were given the option to grant money to a recipient. The findings showed that individuals behaved more altruistically in the presence of an eye-like painting. This implies that eye contact, even from an inanimate object, can inspire actions that may enhance an individual’s reputation in a group setting, perhaps in the hope that it will elicit some future reward.
Consciously using eye contact
Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that people can consciously use eye contact to benefit individual lives. During a time where people are often caught up with making an impression online, these studies serve a reminder of how invaluable physical presence can be. When someone is present, engaged and holding eye contact with us, even for a 30-minute coffee, they could be building the rapport that makes for a more memorable relationship, while also encouraging altruism and mutual cooperation. How could you start using eye contact to develop better and deeper relationships in your network?