Look into my eye
April 14, 2009 2:50 AM   Subscribe

Which eye do you look at when you are talking with someone?

Are you even conscious of this? Do you switch? How do you decide?
posted by devnull to Human Relations (35 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I look mostly at people's mouths when I'm talking to them. But when looking at people's eyes I'm certainly not conscious of choosing an eye, and I don't even think you have to.

Why do you assume it's impossible to look at both eyes at the same time?
posted by creasy boy at 2:59 AM on April 14, 2009


I automatically look at their right eye almost every time, but then I'll catch myself doing this, so I'll consciously switch it. But then I think they're going to think I'm weird for switching eyes on them, so I go back. But not always. This is especially pronounced when I start thinking about something else while the person is still talking.

It's totally impossible to look at both eyes if you're relatively close to a person (and not watching them on TV or something). If they're far enough to where you don't need to focus on one or the other eye, then it probably doesn't matter which eye you're looking at.
posted by spiderskull at 3:05 AM on April 14, 2009


Allright, I just went and stared in the mirror, and it seems to me that when I'm at least arm's-length away I don't have to make a decision; but when I'm closer I look mostly in the right eye but switch hysterically back and forth as well. I think this is partly why I avoid eyes alltogether and watch people's mouths when they're talking. It's just too nerve-wracking.
posted by creasy boy at 3:16 AM on April 14, 2009


The good one.
posted by phunniemee at 3:21 AM on April 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm only ever aware of this eye-switching thing if I'm in a conversation with a close-talker. I tend to look off into the distance while discreetly taking a step back, so that I can take in the other person's entire face.
posted by maryh at 3:27 AM on April 14, 2009


I was taught to look at the bridge of the person's nose. Looks to them like you are looking at both eyes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:01 AM on April 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you feel you have to decide, it's because you're thinking too hard about it. But if you can't stop yourself from fidgeting from eye to eye (and if you're more than a couple of feet away), try looking at the bridge of the nose while unfocussing your eyes just a little. In most situations though it's probably better not to be looking directly into someone's eyes for more than a few seconds at a time before glancing down, blinking, nodding or whatever you do when you're having a normal conversation; too much eye contact is as bad as too little. It's easy to get self-conscious about looking into one eye or the other, or flicking to and fro, but it's unlikely the other person will notice anyway.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:12 AM on April 14, 2009


I was taught to look at the bridge of the person's nose.

This. I look at the third eye, so to speak.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 4:39 AM on April 14, 2009


I was taught to look at the bridge of the person's nose.

Back in the 1970s in the UK, trade union representatives were taught to do this as negotiation strategy. When you're in contentious discussion with someone it's instinctively hard to look them in the eye. Staring at the bridge of their nose enables one to hold a gaze without looking down, away or otherwise fidgeting. It's also unsettling for the person on the other end.
posted by dmt at 4:54 AM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have thought about this before, enough to self-analyze relentlessly. As it turns out, I alternate, more or less.

When it's my turn to say something, my eyes tend to wander around, looking up or all over while I am grasping for words or whatever the heck I am doing... and then when I'm finishing, or pausing, or looking for acknowledgment or understanding, I look back and "catch" whichever eye I see first.

And then I repeat as necessary, until the conversation is over and/or the other person realizes they are dealing with a crazy person who is spending half their time having a conversation and the other half thinking about how they are having a conversation.
posted by rokusan at 4:55 AM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I ever find myself wondering which eye to look someone in then

1) I wonder which eye am I looking out of? (You look out of one eye, and in with the other)

2) I should be paying more attention to the conversation (or I should finish the conversation before I get really rude).

but mostly;
3) I need to look away, before I really unsettle the person I'm talking to by staring intently at them!
posted by BadMiker at 5:02 AM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I flit back from one eye to the other, and to other areas of the face. Focusing on the bridge of the nose makes me feel like I'm missing a lot of the non-verbal facial cues coming from the eyes during conversation. Also, staring into the eyes--deep, too deep into the eyes--of your conversation partner may send the signal that you're ready to kiss them or are otherwise creepy/crazy.
posted by not_on_display at 5:24 AM on April 14, 2009


Wow, I'd never even considered this before, but I think I really look at a person's left eye more when I'm talking to them.
posted by LolaGeek at 5:39 AM on April 14, 2009


Whichever one is more closed.
posted by Picklegnome at 6:11 AM on April 14, 2009


I switch between looking at the bridge of their nose and the mouth, occasionally looking at one or the other eye as well... you just can't switch too often, especially between eyes, because then it looks like you're freaking out with your eyeballs.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 6:14 AM on April 14, 2009


Try turning your body so that you and the person you're talking to are at a slight angle to one another. Then look at the closer eye. I'm like most other people here in that I don't generally thing about it, but when I do it gets really neurotic and awkward feeling. That's when I go for the closer eye. It's good because the closer eye makes it feel more personal while the angle gives you cover to glance away (to the space in front of you) with frequency. -- Or you could always stare intently at your feet until they leave you alone.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 6:15 AM on April 14, 2009


I stare right through the person at an imaginary spot on the back of their head, which depending on my distance, allows me to look at both eyes at once, even if it does leave the person's face slightly out of focus.
posted by swellingitchingbrain at 6:29 AM on April 14, 2009


I was taught to look at the bridge of the person's nose.

People can tell when you're doing this, at least I can. It feels dishonest, and makes me less inclined to trust whoever's talking to me. If I feel like someone is going out of their way to create the illusion of eye contact, it seems manipulative.

I switch back and forth between eyes. Maintaining good eye contact isn't about a consistent gaze or stare, but a series of mutually coordinated glances.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:19 AM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I always stare at people's teeth, especially if they are unpleasant looking. Weird, I know, and probably a little rude, but I can't seem to help it.

I suppose it beats staring at a girl's chest, which I've seen quite often, right?
posted by elder18 at 7:31 AM on April 14, 2009


Their right eye, usually, though I'll check in with the other from time to time.

I think this is because, visually, I'm left-eye dominant.

What solipsophistocracy said!
posted by asuprenant at 8:03 AM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The sight of someone else flitting between your two eyes is actually a natural, pleasant sight. It makes the other person look engaged and interested in whatever it is you're doing or saying. The sight of someone staring at the bridge of your nose is uncanny and off-putting, and yes I think people will be able to see your "one-yard stare".

So yes, I am sometimes consciouss of it, and yes, I often switch, but I try not to think about it when I can. Sometimes I even stare at the bridge of the nose, but only when I'm feeling lazy or disengaged.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 8:07 AM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Michael Caine (the actor) looks at the one that isn't the one that the other actor would be looking straight to the camera with.

Or something like that.
posted by Xhris at 8:39 AM on April 14, 2009


Thanks for the responses so far :)

A few people have written about their "dominant eye". How do you tell which eye is dominant?
posted by devnull at 8:42 AM on April 14, 2009


So here is a game I play* sometimes when I'm talking to someone and I think it's boring. If you're looking someone in the eye, it's a pretty safe bet that they're looking you in the eye. Both of you have to pick an eye, and it's usually a totally unconscious thing. If you pick the "wrong" eye, your conversation partner won't actually be looking you in the eye, they'll be looking at your eyeball that isn't looking back. You can consciously switch back and forth. I can almost guarantee that they'll switch back and forth too in an attempt to match up eyes with you, making a game of tag with their eyes and yours.

* i don't actually play this game. i'm not a jerk.
posted by hapticactionnetwork at 8:44 AM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never really considered this before, but now that I think about it, I guess- the left one.

How do I know which is my dominant eye?

I'm pretty sure my right eye is (is that because I'm right handed? I don't know) because if I only open one at a time and look in different directions, my right eye seems quicker to focus, doesn't get sore as quickly, etc. I also stare at double monitors all day, every day, so I'm not sure how that plays into it. Hmmm, which monitor do I look at the most? ... Ha! It is again the left monitor that I prefer. Very interesting post!
posted by Eicats at 9:10 AM on April 14, 2009


I stare at the left eye though I do switch and that's only when I'm not looking at their mouth. I have no idea why I look at their mouth.
posted by grablife365 at 9:56 AM on April 14, 2009


devnull: A few people have written about their "dominant eye". How do you tell which eye is dominant?

1) Locate an object about 10 feet away in your field of vision.
2) make a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers, and frame that object.
3) Close one eye. Then open that one and close the other. The eye that is open when that object stays in the frame, that's your dominant eye. The eye that's open when the object jumps out of the frame, that's not.
posted by not_on_display at 10:04 AM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I realize that I'm looking at people's eyes- usually the right eye (I am right-handed, so perhaps that's why). If I'm bored I might switch from eye to eye. I watch the mouth only if I'm having trouble hearing them. If someone is far from me, I can look at both eyes at once of course.
posted by Piscean at 11:38 AM on April 14, 2009


If you switch eyes at close range you look like a liar. Film actors make a conscious effort not to do this (or to do it, if they want to look like liars).

If you look between someone's eyes you can't read their emotions. That's so weird, do you people really do that deliberately? I can totally tell when people do this- look at my forehead when they talk to me- and I strongly dislike it. It makes me think they're really anxious and insecure, and a little creepy to boot, and I find it really difficult to feel comfortable around the forehead-lookers. I thought it was an unfortunate tic, now I'm hearing that people actually LIKE it that way? *mind blown*

If the person has any kind of vision problem (a wandering eye or blind in one, etc), I try to look at their good eye. If their hair half-hides one eye, I pick the other.
Otherwise I think I default to their right eye (on my left) as I'm left-eye dominant.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:57 AM on April 14, 2009


Interesting, I've found that human eyes are the only thing I can look into both at the same time.
posted by jellywerker at 12:32 PM on April 14, 2009


not_on_display: The eye that is open when that object stays in the frame, that's your dominant eye.

Then it looks like I don't have a dominant eye :/
posted by devnull at 2:16 PM on April 14, 2009


(Pun not intended.)
posted by devnull at 2:21 PM on April 14, 2009


Your dominant eye is usually the one you'd naturally hold a camera viewfinder up to, when not thinking about which eye you'd choose (So doing this as an experiment on yourself doesn't really work).
posted by dirm at 5:32 PM on April 14, 2009


I started paying attention in reaction to your post and, although I would have said that I switch back and forth, I actually seem to look at the (conversation partner's) right eye. Using not_on_display's and dirm's tests, I myself am right eye dominant. I am right-handed, FWIW.
posted by Morrigan at 4:38 PM on April 15, 2009


1) Locate an object about 10 feet away in your field of vision.
2) make a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers, and frame that object.
3) Close one eye. Then open that one and close the other. The eye that is open when that object stays in the frame, that's your dominant eye. The eye that's open when the object jumps out of the frame, that's not.


I don't think this is a very reliable method; it really only tells you what your dominant hand is, and how you are posturing yourself when you form the triangle. Consider that if you hold both your arms out equally and do the test it will show "no dominance", whereas if you allow one or another arm to dominate the procedure, your "eye dominance" will mirror that.
posted by tybeet at 8:15 AM on April 16, 2009


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