Examining the Interpretation of Eye Contact in a University Setting
The present experiment examined the effects of eye contact and reciprocation in a social setting between an experimenter and a targeted subject of the opposite sex. The present experiment also studied subjects’ interpretations of the eye contact. One-hundred-and-fifty individuals were targeted as subjects at different locations on the University of North Carolina at Wilmington campus. Forty-six individuals agreed to participate. A confederate, who was engaged in natural activity, attempted to make eye contact with the target subjects and receive reciprocated eye contact. Another member of the research group approached the subject after reciprocated eye contact was established and asked them if they could identify someone making eye contact with them. If the subject said ‘yes’ they could identify someone making eye contact with them and they agreed to participate in the study, they were asked to fill out a short survey about themselves. Results were based on an analysis of the data collected from the surveys. Few significant results were found. Males were more likely than females to interpret eye contact as an attraction or in relation to their appearance.
Examining the Interpretation of Eye Contact in a University Setting
The initial stages of romantic attraction develop from a number of contributing factors. Many believe that physical appearance is the first step in the development of a romantic attraction. According to psychologist Pamela C. Regan, men and women are most attracted to romantic partners who possess high levels of sex appeal, which primarily consists of an attractive physical appearance (Regan, 2004). This theory is also evident in a study conducted by Maner, Gailliot, and Rouby which emphasized how “strongly, quickly, and automatically we are attuned to attractive people” (Maner, Gailliot and Rouby, 2007). They found that participants in the study, which included both males and females, fixated on highly attractive people in the first half second of seeing them.
If attractiveness promotes romantic attraction and eye contact, then how do individuals interpret the eye contact? A study by Farris, Treat, Viken & McFall in 2008, found that men’s interpretation of women’s behavior, initiation of eye contact in particular, is associated with increased estimates of women’s sexual desire. Therefore, a female may politely smile and make eye contact with a male, but the male is very likely to misinterpret the eye contact as the female’s sexual desire towards the male.
A study by Campbell (1999) used the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) to score personalities of 102 undergraduate students. The subjects were then ask to list their five most important attributes in a romantic partner, such as “perfect,” “dependent,” and “respectful.” Campbell (1999) found that subjects who scored high on the NPI were more likely to list “attraction” and similar words as the most important attributes in a romantic partner. This may not strike as unusual, according to Maner’s findings that indicate all individuals are more attuned to attractive people (Maner, Galliot, & Rouby, 2007). What is much more profound is that subjects who scored highly on the NPI scale were also less likely to list words of honesty or values, such as “caring,” “moral,” or “interested in family life.” This indicates that narcissistic individuals put much less value on the importance of principles and much more value on the importance of physical appearance. Even more interestingly, Campbell (1999) found that narcissistic people are more likely to seek eye contact and romantic attraction as a strategy for enhancing self esteem.
Other individuals may not have an opportunity to interpret eye contact because they avoid it at all costs. A study by Gamer and Hecht (2007) examined the processing of mutual gaze in social interactions. Mutual gaze was characterized as when an observer looks at or in the direction of the eyes of another person (Gamer and Hecht, 2007, p. 715). Using objective measures provided by an eye tracker, the experimenters studied the reciprocation of gaze in subjects suffering from social phobia. Not only did the subjects avoid eye contact, they avoided scanning any region of a gazer’s face, especially the eye region.
The purpose of the present study was to examine the behavior of subjects receiving eye contact from confederates. A survey was used as a tool for measuring the subject’s interpretation of the eye contact, such as familiarity, friendliness and attraction. The survey also assisted in discovering relevant background information about the subject, such as relationship status and satisfaction, social anxiety and attractiveness.
One-hundred-and-fifty college aged individuals (43 males and 107 females) were potential targets as subjects. Of the original sample, 46 individuals (15 males and 31 females) participated in this study. The average age of the participant was 21.1 years (SD = 5.5). All participants were recruited from different locations on the University of North Carolina at Wilmington campus. These locations included a variety of academic buildings and eating establishments, a coffee shop, a library, and campus common grounds.
The experimenter used a survey to evaluate the subject after eye contact was established between the subject and the confederate. The subject was asked by the experimenter if they would fill out the survey after they agreed that they had, in deed, made eye contact with the confederate. The subject was informed that the survey would remain completely anonymous. The twenty questions asked were as follows:
1) Did you notice somebody looking at you just now?
2) Can you point them out?
2a) In all honesty, before you knew this was a study, can you tell me why you thought that person was looking at you?
5) Relationship Status:
Single Casually Dating In a Relationship Engage Married Recently Split
6) Approximately how long is your current relationship?
7) Can you rate your current relationship satisfaction?
Bad Okay Good Great Outstanding
8) How often do you experience social anxiety?
1 2 3 4 5
Very Infrequently Occasionally Frequently
9) How intensely does social affect you?
1 2 3 4 5
Not at all Moderately Inhibiting Intensely Inhibiting
10) Humility aside, how would you rate yourself on attractiveness?
1 2 3 4 5
Unattractive Moderately Attractive Very Attractive
11) One more time, in all honesty; out of the following choices circle those that apply to why you thought that person was looking at you?
- I thought I knew the person.
- I thought they were being friendly.
- I thought there might be something wrong with my appearance.
- I thought they might be attracted to me.
- I thought they might be judging me.
Interestingly, the Dymaxion structure can be unfolded and re-oriented in any number of ways, depending on the thematics of one’s point of view. The polyhedral geometry provides a remarkably flexible and adaptive system wherein different location and regions can be placed into significantly different sets of relationships. Precisely where the map os cut and folded determine how the parts are seen in relationship to each other, each time radically altered, yet equally true, configurations.
Another instance of critique and invention of the modern map is Walrecio Calda’s Japao. Here, the artist is mapping a territory that is foreign, or ‘unimaginable’ for many in the west.
Guy Debora, a key Situationost theorist, made a series of maps, or ‘spy-chi-georgraphic guides’ of Paris. These were made after Debord had walked aimlessly around the streets and alleys of the city, turning here and there wherever the fancy took him. Recording these wanderings, Debora would cut up and reconfigure a standard Paris map as a series of turns and detours. The resultant map reflected subjective, street-level desires and perceptions rather than a synoptic totality of the city’s fabric.
Such activities became known as the derive, or the dream-like drift through the city, mapping alternative itineraries and subverting dominant readings and authoritarian regimes.
What is interesting about the derive is the way in which the contingent, the ephemeral, the vague, fugitive eventful of spatial experience becomes foregrounded in place of the dominant, ocular gaze.
The first two questions of the survey were in regard to the eye contact reciprocated between the confederate and the subject. The second part of question two was an open-ended question where the subject could write their interpretation of the eye contact made between themselves and the confederate. Questions three through ten of the survey pertained to personal questions about the subject. Questions four and five were simple questions in reference to gender and relationship status. The subject was provided answers to choose from. Questions six was an opened ended questions about relationship length. If the subject had answered this question in “years dated”, the experimenter later formatted this data into “months dated” for consistency. Questions seven through ten used a five point Likert scaling system to rate relationship satisfaction, social anxiety, intensity of social anxiety, and self-rated attractiveness. The 11th and final question of the survey asked the subject, for a second time, their interpretation of the eye contact with the confederate.
After question 11, the survey contained a paragraph thanking the subject for their participation and provided contact information if they were interested in finding out more facts or the results of the study.
One-hundred-and-fifty subjects were targeted as potential subjects in the study. Of the original sample, 46 individuals from different locations on the UNCW campus agreed to participate.
Five research teams spread themselves to various locations on the UNCW campus. One member of the research team was designated as the experimenter, which approached the target after eye contact was established and distributed and collected the surveys. Another member of the team was selected as a confederate, or actor, which attempted to make eye contact with potential targets. The remaining members of the group were designated as recorders, which stood at a distance of approximately 20 feet, while keeping track of the incoming data.
Subjects were only targeted if the had no previous communication or relationship with any member of the research team. Also, the confederate only targeted subjects of the opposite sex.
The experimenter and the confederate together engaged in natural activities, such as having a conversation at a table. The confederate found a potential subject and attempted to make eye contact with reciprocation. Reciprocation must have occurred 3 times, with a length of at least 2 seconds each time. If reciprocation occurred under the previous provisions, the experimenter would then approach the subject.
The experimenter would first approach the subject by explaining his affiliation to the university, as a psychology student. The experimenter would then go on to say that he is conducting an anonymous survey as a psychology student. The experimenter continued to explain that the survey would not take more than two minutes to complete.
If the subject did not agree to participate in the study, the experimenter kindly thanked them for their time and returned to their designated observation area. If the subject did agree to participate, the first two questions of the survey were administered by the experimenter in an interview fashion. The remaining nine questions of the survey were filled out by the subject. The subject was then asked by the experimenter to complete the remaining nine questions of the survey.
After the subject filled out the survey, they were kindly thanked for their participation.
The data from this study was obtained from the survey administered to participants. All categorical data was recoded into numerical values.
Of the original sample of 150 targets, 61 (19 males and 42 females) individuals reciprocated eye contact with the confederate. A frequency distribution of gender spilt by reciprocation showed only 19 males reciprocated gaze out of the targeted 63 males. A frequency distribution of gender also showed that 42 females reciprocated gaze out of the targeted 107 females. Beyond this data, of the 19 males that returned reciprocal eye contact, four refused to participate in the study. Forty-two females returned reciprocal eye contact and 11 refused to participate in the study.
The survey measured the mean and standard deviation of four variables for the 46 participants: relationship satisfaction (M = 3.65, SD= 1.73); social anxiety (M = 1.96, SD = .868); intensity of social anxiety (M = 2.02, SD = 1.00); self-rated attractiveness (M = 3.28, SD = .696). The means and standard deviations of these four variables were based out of a five point Likert scale.
A chi square test of independence was run and it showed that there was a significant relationship between gender and interpretation of eye contact by the subject, x² (2, N=46) = 9.56, p < .05. Observed frequencies for gender and interpretation categories were as followed: familiarity= males 0, females 5; friendly= males 0, females 2; appearance= males 3, females 0; attraction= males 3, females 5.
A simple regression was run to examine the relationship between interpretation and social anxiety intensity score and found a significant result, F (1, 43) = 4.51, p < .05. A simple regression was run to measure the relationship between anxiety and interpretation category recode. With r = -0.351 and p < .05, a negative correlation was found. As anxiety score increases there was a tendency for the category response to fall into the lowered valued responses. Split by gender, this relationship did not hold for both males and females, but only for females.
Finally, a regression was run to examine the relationship between self-rated
attractiveness and recode of interpretation and found a significant relationship with
r = -.622 and p<.05.
The survey revealed that of the 46 participants, most were generally satisfied with their current relationship satisfaction (M = 3.65, SD= 1.73). Also, there was a low occurrence of subjects that reported suffering from social anxiety (M = 1.96, SD = .868). This finding supports findings by Gamer and Hecht (2007) that had previously found individuals that suffer from social phobia do not make eye contact in social settings. Most likely, an individual who suffers from social phobia would not have participated in our study because, just as Gamer and Hecht (2007) suggested, they would not have reciprocated eye contact the required amount of times.
Results of the study also found that observed frequencies for interpretation of eye contact and gender had a significant relationship. Males were less likely to interpret eye contact as familiarity or friendly, and were more likely to interpret the eye contact as appearance or attractiveness. In contrast, females were much more likely to interpret eye contact as familiarity, friendly, or attracted. Our data is supported by findings that males place heavier influence than females on the physical characteristics of their prospective romantic partner (Nevid, 1984).
The present study only took into account heterosexual individuals. Confederates only targeted eye contact reciprocation from individuals of the opposite sex. The survey does not take into account that some of the individuals surveyed may have been homosexual and were not targeted by confederates of their sexual preference. Even if an individual’s sexual preference is of the opposite sex, findings from a study conducted suggest that often individuals are attracted to the same sex- they just don’t admit it (Maner, 2007).
As previously discussed, individuals who scored high on the Narcissism Personality Inventory were less likely to list desired attributes such as “honesty” and “integrity” as important in a romantic partner. These individuals were much more likely to stress the importance of physical attributes (Campbell, 1999). The present study came across similar findings. There was a significant relationship between those who rated themselves higher on the scale of self-rated attractiveness and interpreted eye contact as an attraction. This may be because people with narcissistic characteristics find boosts in self esteem by being gratified by others.
Future studies may want to alter the design of the present study. Although anonymity was reassured at least two times to every participant, they were still forced to complete the survey in an extremely social setting. This may have prevented participants from completing the survey honestly. With the experimenter standing close by, purposeful distortion may have occurred, where the subject may have answered the survey with answers that he would not be shameful of. This problem could have been solved by letting the subject fill out the survey away from the experimenter and confederate and also by providing an envelope for the survey to be placed in after being completed. Both of these procedures would allow for more anonymity and, in turn, more reliable data.
Campbell, W. K. (1999, December). Narcissism and romantic attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1254-1270. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from PsycInfo database (1999-15054-012).
Farris, C., Treat, A., & Viken, R.J. (2008, January). Sexual coercion the misperception of sexual intent. Clinical Psychology Review, 28(1), 48-66. Retrieved on March 9, 2008 from PsycInfo database (2008-00305-006).
Gamer, M., & Hecht, H. (2007, June). Are you looking at me? Measuring the cone of Gaze. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 33 (3), 705-715. Retrieved March 9, 2008, from PsycInfo database (2007-07213-014).
Maner, J.K., Gailliot, M.T., & Rouby, D.A. (2007, September). Can’t take my eyes off you: Attentional adhesion to mates and rivals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(3), 389-401. Retrieved March 4, 2008 from PsycInfo database (2007-12436-004).
Nevid, J.S. (1984, September). Sex differences in the matter of romantic attraction. Sex Roles, 11(5-6), 401-411. Retrieved March 4, 2008 from PsycInfo database (1985-20084-001).
Regan, P.C. (2004). Sex and the Attraction Process: Lessons from Science (and Shakespeare) on Lust, Love, Chastity, and Fidelity. In The Handbook of Sexuality in Close Relationships, 115-133. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from PsycInfo database (2004-13774-005).
I took this survey and handed it around people within the learning zone at CSM library, just to see what type of results i would get on a 1) small group 2)english based study 3)people around 20 years old.
I don't want the idea of attraction to be the main theme of my work on eye-contact but i do believe it is something i have to include in my research as attraction is one of the biggest factors in to idea of body language, in particular eye-contact.
what i took away from my surveys i collected was that not many people were particularly interested in what was going on around them, which makes sense as i handed them out during class time rather than lunch as people where more interested in work than other stuff.
I also say that people didn't think too highly of themselves on the attraction scale, averaging around a 2 or 3, when i asked people why they put such low scores they responded in a humble way, like 'I'm not that pretty/attractive,' etc.