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Social Sci LibreTexts

5.2G: Eye Contact

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    8033
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    Eye contact develops in a cultural context and different gazes have different meanings all over the world.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Discuss the various ways people use eye contact as a means of social and emotional expression

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Eye contact is an incredibly expressive form of nonverbal communication.
    • Eye contact aligns with the relationship underlying the gaze. People who are close with one another look at each others eyes; avoiding eye contact can put distance between two individuals.
    • The customs and significance of eye contact vary widely between cultures, with religious and social differences often altering its meaning greatly. For example, Japanese children are taught to direct their gaze at the region of their teacher’s Adam’s apple or tie knot.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • eye contact: The condition or action of looking at another human or animal in the eye.
    • oculesics: The study of eye contact as a form of body language.

    Eye contact is the meeting of the eyes between two individuals. In humans, eye contact is a form of nonverbal communication and has a large influence on social behavior. The study of eye contact is sometimes known as oculesics.

    Eye contact provides a way in which one can study social interactions, as it provides indications of social and emotional information. People, perhaps without consciously doing so, probe each other’s eyes and faces for signs of positive or negative mood. In some contexts, the meeting of eyes arouses strong emotions. Eye contact can establish a sense of intimacy between two individuals, such as the gazes of lovers or the eye contact involved in flirting. Alternatively, avoiding eye contact can establish distance between people. When in crowds, people tend to avoid eye contact in order to maintain privacy.

    The customs and significance of eye contact vary widely between cultures, with religious and social differences often altering its meaning greatly. According to the tenets of the Islamic faith, Muslims ought to lower their gazes and try not to focus on the features of the opposite sex, except for the hands and face. Japanese children are taught to direct their gaze at the region of their teacher’s Adam’s apple or tie knot. As adults, Japanese tend to lower their eyes when speaking to a superior as a gesture of respect. In Eastern Africa, it is respectful not to look the dominant person in the eye, whereas such avoidance of eye contact is negatively interpreted in Western cultures. As with all forms of social interaction that impart social significance, eye contact is culturally determined.

    image

     

    Eye Contact in Painting: Two figures lock eyes in Caravaggio’s The Fortune Teller.