Is eye contact a non-verbal communication


 As receptors of stimuli in visual perception, the eyes are primarily there to receive information and less to send signals. Nevertheless, everyone knows from experience that the way you look at someone also says something.
You don't have to do the so-called "mean look"to endeavor by witches or other villains to point out the outstanding importance of seeing the action and its interpretation by another viewer.
However, whether you like it or not: When you look at someone, you always send two general signals:


Gaze behavior and creation of social relationships

Even if looks, taken on their own, cannot be clearly interpreted, they play a very large part in establishing relationships and maintaining social contact.

So can the Gaze duration an essential indication of sympathy be (if you are fond of, you look more at), but also an expression of Dominance or even threat be. Interestingly, the duration of the gaze is limited in time and is not nearly 100% sustained during the conversation. So one has, inter alia. detected:

  • In general, when you listen, you look at each other twice as long as when you speak.

  • The greater the distance, the greater the eye contact.

  • Eye contact is less for more intimate topics of conversation and greater for less intimate topics.

  • Women look more than men and two women maintain extensive eye contact during conversation.

  • The gaze behavior of women is usually given more attention by others. (Applying make-up to the eyes enhances this effect.)

  • When asked a question, men usually always turn to the right or mostly always to the left. Women take turns in it.

  • Men’s pupils dilate when they look at photographs of attractive women; in women this occurs in both photographs of men and infants.

  • Deceiving another less intimate person will generally look less at them.

  • Anyone who wants to gain dominance over someone else first sends long glances, but then significantly reduces the gaze frequency.

  • Anyone who looks at others more than others is considered to be more active, dominant and more self-confident.

  • If you fix your gaze on someone, you may send a threatening signal.

  • Glances are avoided when experiencing negative feelings such as fear, shame, and embarrassment.
    ((see Argyle 1979, 8th edition 2000, pp.220-233).

When speaking, it is not uncommon for the gaze to qualify the speech act (illocutionary act). The statement addressed to a conversation partner: "Now a beer would do you good." can in principle be meant as an order, as an indirect request, as a wish or as a factual communication. In addition to the general situational context, it depends on the length of eye contact how the utterance is meant. If you don't look for a long time, it is a command that is often combined with a smile as a kind of satisfaction signal. (see Winterhoff-Spurk 1983)

Nevertheless, the signaling effect of the gaze alone is often not enough to encode certain information. This can be illustrated particularly well using the example of averting one's gaze:
"If someone averts his gaze, others may not be able to decide whether he is doing this because he is too close, because he is talking about a very intimate or difficult topic, has other interesting things to look at, does not like the person he is speaking to, a higher one Status, being introverted, schizophrenic or depressed, embarrassed or sad, or because they belong to a particular American Indian tribe, to name just one of the most important possibilities. " (Argyle 1979, 8th edition 2000, p.234f.)

In connection with the spatial approach of people (Proxemics) looks play a central role. For example, J. Fast (1979) stated on the exchange of looks in public:
"If you walk past someone on the street, you can look at them until you are within three meters. Then you have to look away and walk past. Before you have reached the three-meter mark, you will signal each other which side you want to pass each other on. This is done with a quick glance in the relevant direction. Then you start to deviate from the original direction and pass smoothly. (Fast 1979, p.140, quoted in Schober 1989, p.61)

Cultural peculiarities

The gaze behavior is also different from culture to culture, if there is agreement in the fundamentals. One has, inter alia. detected:

  • Arabs, who are also closer together, have more eye contact than Europeans or Americans.

  • The Japanese focus more on their necks than their eyes.

  • Greeks watch more when they meet strangers in public or in private than Brits or Americans.

  • In many cultures, eye contact is seen as a sign of a lack of respect.

Gert Egle, last edited on: November 8th, 2019