I’m Eyeing You All The Time

So the New York Times published an article some time back about eye contact. Eye contact seems to be very socially important, to the extent that brands make products with mascots that specifically look straight at you, and they’re effective in getting you to buy them. And we all know that everything psychologically important has been exploited by marketers at some point in time.

The article added that eye contact makes a person more likeable and trustworthy, which is little wonder that Mao has been so successful — I mean, his entire image centres around eye contact, to the extent that the rest of his face was intentionally downplayed to maximise attention on his eyes. That said, the article also acknowledges that Asians break eye contact more quickly than Westerners. My friend once said that she was uncomfortable that her Western professor was looking her in the eye so much and for so long. To us Asians, you don’t look into the eyes of somebody in authority — that seems almost defiant. However, to Westerners, it’s considered rude not to look into the eyes of a person with authority. That’s where conflict sometimes occurs.

I’ve read somewhere else, though, that the desirable kind of eye contact differs between gender. Women like men who look at them from the side, whereas men like women who look at them from the front. I believe that from the side, facial features become sharper. The nose and chin seem more prominent, and testosterone is mainly centred around making the face more well-defined, so women think men look better when turned to the side. On the other hand, women’s attractiveness depends on eyes and lips, which are both more prominent from the front, so women should be sure to turn fully towards a man when she looks at him, rather than casting a sidelong glance. Besides, with such long hair, women’s faces would likely be obscured at the side. I haven’t really ascertained if TV shows make use of this property, but do check out some romance dramas and see if I’m right! The camera would insist on capturing women at full frontal profile, but men would be shot from the side.

I’ve met many people who avoid eye contact when they talk, sometimes purposely so, even. It can be quite obvious, and deeply unsettling — you often wonder what precisely they’re looking at when they’re talking. These people also tend to keep a distance from you; they don’t want to get too close. I can see why people would call them distant, callous and unfriendly. After all, eyes are the best way to tell certain emotions in people, such as fear. This reminds me of a psychological disorder named the Urbach-Wiethe Disease, where sufferers do not feel or recognise fear. This woman with the disease, when asked to draw a person feeling fear, said she didn’t know what such people looked like. It turned out that it was because she doesn’t look at people’s eyes, but rather other features like their mouths, which tell little when a person is fearful!

Not only that, she was not afraid of danger. She touched venomous snakes with barely a thought, and laughed when inside a haunted house. It was very frightening.

Back to eye contact. Here’s the full article.



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