Isn’t it odd how people avert their eyes to strangers? Why do we do this? The answer is two-fold: it depends on both our cultural background and our interpersonal relationship tendencies. For this short discussion, let’s focus on tendencies in Western Culture, where direct eye contact is not seen as particularly aggressive or inappropriate, as it is in many other cultures.
Many studies and experiments have been conducted to better help determine and explain what happens when we stare into the eyes of a stranger. Conclusions run the gamut, but the results often show that the longer we stare at each other, the more in sync our non-verbal communication becomes. It’s actually quite astounding.
At first, people are self-conscious. If they can make it past those awkward first few seconds, amazing things can happen. Because, as we begin to shed our self-consciousness, we attempt to find common ground with our stranger, we study and look for what’s “inside their eyes”. Usually, the longer the stare, as long as both people are a party to the process, the stronger the bond between them becomes. A recent Japanese study showed that the longer we stare at someone, the more our brains actually synchronize, and we become one – we can develop feelings, even strong feelings – for complete strangers.
Of course, life gets in the way; each minute out and about is busy; it’s awkward to let our guard down; and, it can be downright creepy to look too deeply into an unsuspecting stranger’s eyes. That said, maybe we could try not averting our eyes in response to every passing person’s glance. Maybe a comfortable, calm look, a smile, and a moment to bond just a bit might do us all some good.
With that, here are a few movie quotes that come to mind:
“Here’s looking at you, kid.” Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
“You talking to me?” –Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver
“You can be a little delusional, and also you have like really big eyes. And that freaks me out sometimes.” –Andy Samburg in Friends With Benefits
“Practically all the people I know were strangers when I met them.” –Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia