The common notion is that one should make in an eye contact with the audience during the process of communication. Such an eye contact tends to make the sender’s point more authoritative and persuasive, states this school of thought.
Be it politicians, salespeople or business consultants, making eye contact to bring the other party to the speaker’s point of view has been a potent non-verbal communication tool.
Findings of a new study, carried out by Julia Minson, a psychologist and assistant professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Frances Chen, a psychologist and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, however dispel this idea.
Minson and Chen realized that the age old wisdom of making eye contact worked well only in what they termed as “lovey-dovey contexts” like a mother lovingly gazing at her child or two lovers looking into each other’s eye.
Therefore they set out to gauge the effects of eye contact in situations involving persuasion and influences.
Methodology and Findings
“Our findings show that direct eye contact makes skeptical listeners less likely to change their minds, not more, as previously believed,” said Chen, confirming that the latest findings are a marked departure from earlier beliefs.
For the purpose of the study, researchers used the recently developed eye-tracking technology.
The analysis revealed that if the study participants spent more time looking at a speaker’s eyes while at the time of watching a video, they were less likely to be convinced with the speaker’s argument. This was especially true for controversial issues.
The study also established that participants who looked at the speaker’s eyes developed a lesser shift in attitude vis-à-vis listeners who looked at the speaker’s mouth.
“Whether you’re a politician or a parent, it might be helpful to keep in mind that trying to maintain eye contact may backfire if you’re trying to convince someone who has a different set of beliefs than you,” concluded Minson.
The point that researchers made was that if someone disagrees with on opinion and the speaker continues to look in the eye in a direct manner, it is construed as ‘dominance’ by the recipient of the message.
Findings of the latest study have been published in the journal Psychological Science.