Eye-gazing parties work the same way as speed dating, with one eye-catching difference: while the 45-minute session is still divided up into two-minute face-to-face sessions with each woman, no talking is allowed. It’s just you, her, and 120 seconds of looking into each other’s eyes.
Sounds awkward, right? But eye-gazing parties are becoming increasingly popular, and scientific research shows that eye contact is indeed far more powerful than a great opening line or a charming story.
In 1998, American psychologist Art Aron brought dozens of couples (men and women who’d never met before) together in his lab at New York State University. There he asked them to look into each other’s eyes for two minutes without saying a word. The results were astounding.
Afterwards, the overwhelming majority of test subjects reported feeling extremely attracted to their test partner. (One of the couples even got married a year later.)
Now it’s probably not a good idea to first stare silently and intently into the eyes of the first beautiful stranger you encounter in the Pick n Pay… unless you want to make the wrong kind of impression entirely. But experiments have shown that there’s plenty you can do with eye contact – provided you use it the right way and in the right situation.
Social psychologist Ischa van Straaten of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, has spent time researching this phenomenon. “There are certain unwritten rules which you must respect,” he says. “And there are also clear differences in how men and women respond to it. But if you know those rules, they’ll definitely help you in situations where you’re able to make eye contact.”
Tip #1: Take The Initiative
Waiting for her to initiate eye contact with you isn’t just swak, it’s also uneconomical. A University of Aberdeen study showed that women (and indeed men) regard someone who explicitly seeks out eye contact with them as being “more interesting” and “better” than other people.
Neurological research backs that up. In 2001, English scientist Chris Fith showed hundreds of people pictures of faces staring directly at them. He then took brain scans of the subjects, and every scan registered activity in the region of the subject’s brain that normally produces dopamine when we’re rewarded for something. In other words, most people react to eye contact as they would react to receiving a gift.
This makes plenty of sense to Dutch researcher Ischa van Straaten. “You can compare it to other social situations,” he says. “If you hear through the grapevine that someone in your immediate circle likes you, then you’d probably see her in a totally different way – as a potential love partner. The same goes for eye contact. If someone looks at you, it makes you curious. And most people also just feel flattered when someone shows interest in them.
Related: Are You Dateable or Just a Fling?
“But it’s also true that a lot of eye contact between men and women comes about because of a small non-verbal cue from woman – something like a quick glance or running her a hand through her hair. Men think they’re the ones initiating the contact, but often that’s not the case.”
Tip #2: Look, Don’t Leer
The way you look at a woman will determine the outcome of your eye contact. Sounds obvious, but a smile works wonders. And you don’t score any points for sneaking a glance out of the corner of your eye.
Again we turn to the University of Aberdeen, where psychologist Claire Conway showed photos of men to hundreds of test subjects. Some of the men were casting sidelong glances at the camera (i.e. at the woman), while others looked straight into the lens. While the differences between the pictures were sometimes very small, all the test subjects said that they found the men more attractive if they looked straight ahead – even if they had an angry or disgusted expression on their faces. The men who looked directly into the camera and smiled had the most success.
Tip #3: Use Your Brows
Want to raise your chances of a good first impression? Then raise your eyebrows. You’re probably already doing it to people you know, without even realising it: raising your eyebrows for a tenth of a second in what social psychologists like Kate Fox, of London’s Social Issues Research Centre, call an “eyebrow-flash”.
“If you are desperate to attract the attention of an attractive stranger across a crowded party, you could try an eyebrow-flash,” Fox writes in a study titled, promisingly, The SIRC Guide To Flirting. (If you’re interested, it’s available online at sirc.org).
“This should make [the person] think that you must be a friend or acquaintance, even though he or she does not recognise you. When you approach, they may thus already be wondering who you are. You can, if you are skilful, use this confusion to initiate a lively discussion about where you might have met before.”
But do yourself a favour, and try not to bust out the tired old “Do I know you from somewhere?” line…
Tip #4: Don’t Be Discouraged
What? No visible signs of success after you’ve exchanged glances with that beautiful stranger? As with so many things, women have a completely different approach to eye contact than men do.
For example, women tend to make more eye contact in daily life. But when a woman encounters someone she finds attractive, the chances are she’ll not be quite so forthcoming with the inviting glances.
That’s what Van Straaten found in a recent study where he monitored how male and female subjects responded to intimate eye contact. “We regularly do experiments where we see how men and women behave as they sit opposite each other for five minutes,” he says. “It should be noted that men who find someone attractive, almost immediately make more eye contact and signal that they’re interested. In women this isn’t the case.
“Some of our female subjects will tell us afterwards that they were in fact attracted to the man – but you’d almost never say so judging by their reaction during the actual experiment. They don’t make eye contact or smile any more than usual. At least, not in the first five minutes.
“That’s not to say that you should continue to try to make eye contact if she doesn’t respond.”
Tip #5: Don’t Overdo It
Of course, there is also such a thing as being too enthusiastic with your eye contact. (And five minutes of staring into her eyes definitely qualifies as “too enthusiastic”.) Once you’ve initiated conversation, it’s a good idea to occasionally look away. Most people will turn their gaze almost automatically when it’s their turn to speak, because viewing and interpreting a face takes up a lot of brain activity.
Case in point: a recent experiment at the University of Stirling in England found that subjects who maintain continuous, uninterrupted eye contact with a partner will provide less accurate answers to simple questions. So your chances of making a good impression by constantly staring at her during a conversation are, it’s fair to say, minimal. And it’s also pretty damn creepy.
“To show interest while your target is speaking, you need to look at his/her face about three-quarters of the time, in glances lasting between one and seven seconds,” Fox writes in her study. ” The person speaking will normally look at you for less than half this time, and direct eye contact will be intermittent, rarely lasting more than one second. The most common mistake people make when flirting is to overdo the eye contact in a premature attempt to increase intimacy. This only makes the other person feel uncomfortable, and may send misleading signals. Some men also blow their chances by carrying on a conversation with a woman’s breasts, rather than looking at her face.”
Tip #6: Look To The Long Term
Eye contact isn’t just a way to break the ice with someone you’re meeting for the first time. Even after a long relationship, you’ll still reap the benefits of regularly looking your partner in the eyes.
Want proof? Then consider the famous experiment by Harvard psychologist Zick Rubin. In 1970 Rubin created a “love scale” by which couples who’d been together for several years reported how intense, exciting and loving their relationship was. After giving each couple a score based on their responses, Rubin then sent the couples to a room where cameras monitored their eye movements. Rubin found that the couples who were still deeply in love looked each other 75% of the time while talking. (In normal conversation, people look each other in the eye only 30-60% of the time.) The couples in Rubin’s experiment who made the least eye contact seemed, quite literally, to be looking elsewhere for their excitement.