Making eye contact ‘counterproductive’ when views differ, study shows

Many people have long believed that eye contact is an effective tool in the art of persuasion. Yet, new research indicates that eye contact may actually create a bigger division among people who already have different viewpoints, Medical News Today reported.

In a study published in Psychological Science, researchers used an eye-tracking system to monitor how people responded to eye contact. In a range of situations, speakers attempted to persuade viewers of their opinion on a variety of controversial political and social issues. Overall, it appeared that the more time viewers looked at the speaker’s eyes, the less likely they were to embrace their views.

Furthermore, eye contact only appeared to be linked to increased persuasiveness when viewers already shared the same outlook as the speaker, according to Medical News Today.

Researchers suspect that while eye contact can convey trust in friendly situations, it may imply hostility or aggression when people disagree with one another.

“Whether you're a politician or a parent, it might be helpful to keep in mind that trying to maintain eye contact may backfire if you're trying to convince someone who has a different set of beliefs than you,” said co-study author Julia Minson, assistant professor of the Public Policy Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

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