You notice an attractive stranger from across the room laughing while reading the paper. You take note of their beautiful smile and thick dark locks. At that moment the stranger looks up from the paper and you make eye contact. You feel sparks begin to fly.
The gaze of attraction is no small thing. In an earlier study, Claire Conway and colleagues investigated the effect eye contact had in ratings of attraction. Among their many interesting findings, researchers revealed that pictures of happy people looking directly at the camera, instead of looking away, were considered to be the most attractive. This was especially true when participants were rating pictures of the opposite sex.
Researchers thought the direct gaze of the person in the picture was a signal of interest, suggesting that people look directly at you when they are attracted to you. As we know from previous research, a big predictor of liking is knowing that the other person likes you first (Condon & Crano, 1988). So cues like eye contact from the other person may let you know that they are interested in you, and thus make you more interested in them as well.
Interestingly, higher ratings of opposite sex pictures only occurred for ratings of attraction and not for ratings of likeability. In other words, catching someone looking at you may change your attraction towards them, but not necessarily how much you like them as a person.
The findings of this research suggest that you might have an easier time with the attractive stranger from across the room if you make eye contact and smile.
Further, as this research was conducted with photos instead of real interactions, the findings may have more relevance to dating and social networking websites. Meaning: If you are looking to attract members of the opposite sex, remember that it may be better to post happy pictures of yourself looking directly at the camera, instead of more serious faces looking away.
Condon, J. W., & Crano, W. D. (1988). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 789-797.
Conway, C. A., Jones, B. C., DeBruine, L. M. & Little, A. C. (2008). Evidence for adaptive design in human gaze preference. Proceedings of the Royal Society, 275, 63-69.