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How to Make Eye Contact in Attraction Work for You

by eharmony Editorial Team - June 13, 2024

It’s probably the second-most important tool for human communication behind direct speech, yet eye contact is something we often ignore. But when it comes to eye contact and attraction, while mouths may sometimes lie the eyes never can.   

Let’s look at eye contact, the meaning of its different types, its benefits in dating and the science behind this social effect.

The science behind eye contact and attraction

Eye contact is a body language expression. As humans evolved more refined facial musculature, it became a form of communication more complex and deeply ingrained than speech or other non-verbal cues.

The science behind eye contact and attraction deals more with brain chemistry than anthropology. This is because it works on a hormonal level. Scientists believe that extended contact triggers a flood of hormones like phenylethylamine and oxytocin – both thought to be essential to the development of love.    

The power and benefits of eye contact

In a budding relationship, eye contact and attraction intermingle in interesting ways. It can give you signals about how attracted you are to each other, the state of your relationship and even improve your intimacy 

Prolonged eye contact increases attraction

We think we gaze into our partner’s eyes constantly because we’re in love. But the truth may be the reverse. While it’s obvious feelings of affection can make you look at your partner more often and for longer, a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that intense eye-contact between man and woman who were strangers for only two minutes significantly increased their sense of attraction and affection1. This shows the importance of frequent eye contact in developing your relationship.  

Pupil dilation is connected to eye contact and attraction

Pupils play a big role in not only telegraphing attraction but in how we perceive potential love interests. Our pupils dilate when we interact with someone we’re attracted to.

Pupil dilation is also an important hormonal signaling device. A study found that we tend to trust people more with dilating pupils than those with constricting pupils2. Another study found that partners’ pupils synchronized – a phenomenon known as pupil mimicry – and when they dilated at the same time, it created a greater sense of trust and intimacy3.  

We often let our eyes to the talking

Eye contact between partners results in less direct communication because we signal more information through our eyes.

A study published in Computers in Human Behavior found that randomly selected partners who weren’t making eye contact tended to talk and seek information from each other more but felt less intimate. Partners making eye contact communicated less but displayed more intimacy and self-disclosure4.

Eye contact love signals are a game of give and take

Another study found that eye contact is a two-way street. We need to both send and receive these signals for intimacy to develop. For instance, the arousal effect described earlier doesn’t occur when looking at an image of someone’s gaze5.

So if you’re trying to form a potential connection with a new person, ditch the sunglasses and make sure you return their gaze as much as possible during interactions.  

Eye contact and attraction don’t diminish even after years

Science shows that couples who gaze together, stay together. A study conducted by famed psychologist Zick Rubin found long-married couples who still rated highly for romantic love tended to spend more time gazing into each other’s eyes each day6. This shows the significance of eye contact communication in building and sustaining love, even years down the line.

Types of eye contact

Not all eye contact communication is about love and intimacy. In fact, many cultures associate it with disrespect or aggression. But for the sake of this article, we’re going to focus solely on the connection between eye contact and attraction. 

Evasive eye contact

This is when the person you’re interacting with can’t consistently meet your gaze or keeps looking around after brief bouts of eye contact. When we look at lack of eye contact and the meaning, we have to look at the social context. 

The first indication you might get is that they’re nervous or uncomfortable around you, or they could just be socially anxious. Eye contact increases our sense of self-awareness7, which can be difficult for some. But regardless, it does stifle your ability to properly connect with the person and get to know them.

This is where we meet the end of the eye’s range of communication ability. So simply ask the person, “I’m sorry, am I making you uncomfortable? Or is something wrong? Would you prefer ending the date?” and take whatever answer you get with grace and humility.    

Frequent glancing away

Glances can also have a range of meanings. An unconscious glance isn’t controlled by the person and means that something momentarily caught their attention. Maybe it’s just a funny poster behind you. But it has no real significance.

Some supposed dating experts say that if they break their gaze downwards after glancing away, it indicates attraction while if they break it by looking sideways, they’re not interested. But that’s a shaky eye contact and attraction theory at best. 

When they keep glancing away but it doesn’t seem to be evasive action, you may just find that their attention isn’t on you, which never feels good during a date. This is still often an unconscious gesture but it definitely indicates a lack of interest and is somewhat inconsiderate. Once again, it may be best to end your date politely. 

Sustained eye contact

This is when they generally maintain eye contact with you while you talk, occasionally glance when they notice something and often just take in their surroundings. This is considered to be the healthiest level of eye contact you’d want during a date.

In terms of eye contact and attraction, it’s still sort of neutral territory. They may just have normal social manners and understand that eye contact is what’s expected in a polite interaction. 

But if they seem to focus increasingly on you and let other distractions float by without glancing away, then it certainly means you have their attention and could be a positive indicator of attraction.

Intense eye contact

Otherwise known as gazing, this is when your date can’t seem to stop staring into your eyes, or at least trying to if you’re not comfortable gazing back. While this usually indicates quite a strong level of attraction, it may not indicate the healthiest form of it.

It may also indicate a conscious or unconscious desire for intense connectivity and intimacy. A study from Fudan University shows that prolonged intense eye contact can induce high levels of self-other merging8, a social mirroring phenomenon where people start to see someone as increasingly similar to themselves both in terms of appearance and personality.

So it’s probably best to proceed with caution.

How you can use eye contact in attraction and dating

Improving your own eye contact skills can be useful in more than your dating life by making your everyday social interactions feel more fulfilling and engaging. So let’s look at some ways you can consciously improve this communication skill.  

How to manage holding eye contact

Eye contact anxiety is common and can be connected to shyness. They avoid people’s gaze as they find the experience too personal.

eye-contact. Try the triangle method, where you imagine an inverted triangle from their eyes to their mouth and every few seconds change which corner of the triangle you stare at.

Or you could try adjusting to it slowly. So maintain eye contact for a few seconds and then look away. Looking away slowly or making a gesture can make this seem less awkward and more just part of your communication style. 

How to practice eye contact

Start off with someone you know well and feel comfortable with. Now try and maintain prolonged eye contact in complete silence for as long as you can. Practise until it feels more normal.

Another good method of eye-contact is to make eye contact as you approach people for the interaction and don’t break it. It’s often in trying to meet people’s gaze that we experience a flash of anxiety.

Another good way is to practise in low-stakes situations. Try maintaining consistent eye contact as you talk to cashiers, business workers and minor acquaintances throughout your day. This will make you feel less awkward if you do mess up. 

How to use eye contact for attraction and dating

Eye contact, in and of itself, probably isn’t going to change your love life overnight. What it will do is put your dates at ease. They’ll be more willing to trust you and feel comfortable sharing with you, increasing your sense of closeness and intimacy.

It can also help you meet prospective partners because now that you’re more willing to look around and make eye contact, you’ll be more perceptive that people are looking at you and perhaps more confident to do something about it.    

A woman and a man sitting next to each other. The woman has a cup in her hands and smiles at the guy.

Body Language and Attraction

The eyes are windows to the soul and eye contact has an ancient role in social interactions and body language. We take a deep look at body language and signs of attraction and how you can read them.

Love is in the eye of the beholder

Eye contact can be a powerful social tool to communicate with your partner more deeply and intimately, forge deeper social connections and feel more present in those moments. It’s also useful for getting a better read on people, their intentions and how they’re reacting to you. But you may be wondering, does eye contact mean attraction? It may not be that simple and can differ from person to person. But it definitely does mean you’ve caught their attention and they’d like to know more. The question is, how will you respond when the right kind of eye-contact comes your way?

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