Facial expression is a very important component of human communication. Of all the functions of the face, eye behavior is unquestionably the most important tool in communication. Eye behavior serves a variety of purposes. It regulates conversations, shows interest or involvement, and establishes a connection with others. Specifically, the eye gaze is one aspect of eye behavior that plays a significant role in the communication process. It can make or break a conversation.
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In order to further understand the effects of the eye gaze versus the lack of eye contact, I participated in conversation with three people, using two types of eye behavior. In one situation, I gazed in the eyes of the individual. In the other situations, I completely avoided looking at the person all together. For the first part of my conversational experiment, I conversed with the preachers’ wife, whom I had just met following church service. I told a friend of mine to time the conversation, and interrupt it in two minutes.
As soon as I introduced myself, a conversation began flowing. I made sure to lock my eyes into her eyes. The first few seconds of the eye gaze felt normal to me. I sensed that it felt normal to her as well. We went on to talk about where we were originally from, and what lead us to Huntsville. I could tell that she was a very confident person because she didn’t seem to mind looking back into my eyes. She kept the conversation going. After about ten seconds into the gaze I wanted to look away to the left, right or even her hair, but I didn’t want to alter the experiment.
The continuous gaze didn’t feel normal. In fact, it was pretty awkward. Despite the uncomfortable situation, the conversation kept going with the preachers’ wife doing most of the talking. It seems that the continuous gaze made her feel like I was `extremely interested in what she was saying. I also felt like she thought I looked up to her. She elaborated and reiterated a lot of what she was saying. I found some comfort in blinking and smiling. The preacher’s wife eventually started looking at me as if I had a problem, and that she was silently trying to diagnose me.
We both sort of ran out of things to say, so I tried asking some random questions to keep the conversation going. This was the longest two minutes of my life. As I anticipated the end of the two minutes, the preachers’ wife wrapped up the conversation by saying, “Well… it was nice meeting you, take care. ” The conversation ended a few seconds shy of two minutes. I could not have been more relieved. I felt the need to catch up with the preachers’ wife to erase some of the embarrassment I felt by letting her know that she was part of an experiment.
She admitted that she was relieved it was an experiment. She didn’t know what was wrong with me, but she sensed that something was not right about me. For the second situation, I decided to sit in the waiting area of the mall in hopes of attracting anyone who might want to have a conversation with me for the purpose of the experiment. Some random guy walked up to me, and asked me what my name was. I answered while avoiding eye contact. Then he simply said, “Alright” and walked away as if he was embarrassed.
The conversation didn’t last for more than two sentences. So I decided to use another individual. I walked into a store and purchased a shirt. While paying for the shirt, I avoided making eye contact with the cashier. It didn’t feel as bad as answering a question without making eye contact. Yet, it didn’t feel normal. In fact, I felt as if I were being rude. The cashier didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t make eye contact with her. She bagged my shirt and handed it to me, without saying a word.
I assume she gave me the silent treatment as a form of payback. I usually hear, “Have a nice day. ” In this case, it was clear to me that lack of eye contact created a negative vibe. As a result of my experiment, I conclude that too much of both the continuous eye gaze and the complete avoidance of eye contact are socially odd, but; a conversation will last longer when any form of eye contact is displayed. Avoiding eye contact during communication suggest disinterest, lack of confidence, and in some cases shyness.
Most people would rather not converse with someone they feel isn’t interested in what they are saying, thus a lack of eye contact will consequently break a conversation, or permit one from starting. I found that the eye gaze helps to maintain conversation but again, too much of it is just plain weird. There will always be variables that determine what is normal, and how eye behavior is interpreted; for example, gender, age, social status, personality and cultural norms.
How would things have been different if I had decided to gaze into a man’s eyes instead of the preachers’ wife? Considering the confidence of the preachers wife, how would she have reacted if I avoided I contact with her. If she had held a different position other than “the preachers’ wife” would she have had as much patience to continue a conversation with me? Overall, eye behavior is extremely important. The amount of eye contact we display says a lot more than what we say verbally.