In this article, we’ll look at eye contact body language or how people use their eyes to communicate with each other.
Eyes have been aptly described as windows to the soul for they communicate so much information that spoken words sometimes seem like an unnecessary faculty in our communication repertoire, only causing more confusion and misunderstanding.
Eyes, on the other hand, convey what they want to convey very clearly in a mysterious universal language that every person in the world understands.
First things first, why do we look at what we look at? If you think about it, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that we look where we want to go. In other words, we look where our mind wants us to go.
Eye contact allows us to interact with the world. Anything that we do with anything around us requires us to first size up that thing with which we want to interact.
For instance, you have to look at the person you’re talking to. If you enter a room full of people and begin talking without looking at anyone in particular, everybody would get confused and some might even ring up mental health professionals.
Proper eye contact with the person whom you’re talking to makes them feel you are genuinely interested in conversing with them. It also shows respect and confidence. Confidence because we usually avoid looking at something we’re afraid of. This is why shy people find it hard to make eye contact.
We see what we want to engage with
More eye contact means more interaction. If a person gives you more eye contact than he gives to other members of the group, it means he’s either interacting with you more or wants to interact with you more. Note that this interaction may either be positive or negative.
A person who gives you a prolonged gaze may either be interested in you or he may have a hostile attitude towards you. Interest will motivate him to please you while hostility will motivate him to harm you. We stare at people we like or people we are angry with.
Let’s just focus on what we like
When it comes to signalling interest, nothing beats the eyes and the titillating twins above the nose have since ages fascinated and captivated romantic poets, playwrights, and writers.
As mentioned earlier, the person who is interested in you will usually give you more eye contact than the others. Their eyes will sparkle upon seeing you.
When we see someone we like, our eyes get lubricated just so the other person finds us appealing. Their pupils will dilate to let more light in so that they may behold you as fully and completely as possible.
When they say something interesting or funny, they’ll look at you to check your reaction. This is only done with people we are intimate with or, as in this case, the people we are trying to get intimate with.
Blocking something from sight
The opposite of what we’ve been discussing so far is also true. If we look at things we like or want to interact with, we also block from our sight the things that we don’t like or don’t want to interact with.
The most obvious way this is done is by simply looking away. Doing an about-face from something indicates our lack of interest, lack of concern or negative attitude towards that thing.
However, looking away doesn’t always mean that the person is trying to avoid eye contact. Often a person will look away during a conversation to enhance the clarity of thought because looking at someone’s face while talking to them can be distracting. The context of the situation needs to be considered in case there’s any doubt.
The less obvious way in which we block something unpleasant from our sight is by extensively blinking the eyes or what is known as ‘the eyelid flutter’. Extended blinking or eyelid fluttering is an attempt by a person’s subconscious to covertly block something from sight.
If a person feels uncomfortable in a situation in any way, he might flutter his eyes rapidly. This lack of comfort may be the result of anything- boredom, anxiety or disinterest- anything that causes unpleasant feelings in us.
It is common to see people increasing their blink rate when they’re lying or saying something uncomfortable. People also block others from sight if they look down upon them. Shutting the eyes gives them an air of superiority as they remove the despicable person from their sight.
This is why the expressions, “Get lost!” “Please stop!” “This is ridiculous!” “What have you done?!” are often accompanied by squinting or a brief shutting of the eyes.
We also squint our eyes when we don’t understand something (“I don’t ‘see’ what you mean”), when we are concentrating really hard on a single thing (removing every other thing from sight or mind) and even when we hear voices, sounds or music that we don’t like!
We squint in bright sunlight to allow the proper amount of light into our eyes so that we can see properly, nothing psychological about that.
When we’re feeling insecure in any given situation, we naturally wish to escape it. For that, we have to first look away for any available escape route. But since looking away is an obvious sign of a lack of interest and clearly signals our desire to escape, we try to sabotage our attempt to look for escape routes by not looking away.
However, our undercover search for escape routes leaks out in the darting movement of our eyes. The eyes darting from side to side is actually the mind looking for an escape route.
If you see a person doing this in a conversation, it means that he either finds the conversation boring or something that you just said made him feel insecure.
It is also done when a person doesn’t understand what’s being said and is accessing the auditory representational system of the brain.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve published one book and authored 300+ articles and on this blog (started in 2014) that have garnered over 4 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.