Gaze Matters! Cultivate an Eye for a Wandering Eye
You have just been seated at a trendy new restaurant, and are eager to begin an evening of great food and great conversation. You don´t need to look at the menu — you chose your entrée on the restaurant website days ago. Your date doesn´t look at it either — apparently for a very different reason. He doesn´t look at you either; his gaze is focused on another woman seated nearby at the bar. Given that this is your first night out together, does his focus (or fixation) indicate he is being obvious or oblivious?
Does Focus Indicate Distraction or Attraction?
If you have ever been in this situation, you are in good company. Although it is hard not to take personally, most people have found themselves in this awkward predicament at one time or another, wondering what to do, whether to say something, or how to best get through the evening.
Whether you are out to dinner, a ballgame, or any other public outing, partner inattention can range from distraction to fixation. A "date" who is engaging in embarrassing staring and ogling of relational alternatives is the easy case, where clearly the first date is the last. The more challenging scenarios involve subtle glances, lingering eye contact with others, or other types of ambiguous behavior where you worry your suspicions reflect your own insecurity, rather than the intentions of your partner.
Particularly with couples whose primary method of interaction has been online, a failure to connect visually on a first date is unnerving. This is because eye contact during the getting-to-know-you phase of a relationship is very important. There may be cultural explanations and social rules that explain visual behavior in many cases. In others, research reveals that fixation reveals motivation.
Gaze research has focused on the link between looking and thinking, and accordingly, reveals some suggestions for discerning the objectives behind the optics.
Gaze Reveals Interest: Where Do You Look?
When it comes to attraction, where you look might reflect what you are thinking. Omri Gillath et al. (in 2017) studied the correlation between eye movements and interest when looking at photographs of potential friends versus romantic partners. They found that when assessing romantic suitability, people looked more at the head and chest. When assessing potential friends on the other hand, they looked more at the feet and legs.
Does relationship status make a difference? Gillath et al. found that in general, singles looked at the photographs longer than people in relationships, especially when judging potential mates.
Regarding gender differences, they found that women interested in friendship looked more at the head, as opposed to men, who looked at the head when they were less interested in friendship.
In explaining their findings, they noted that people are "visual creatures," using the sense of sight more than any other sense to interpret surroundings. They also note that both friendship and romance are anchored in attraction. Their research emphasized that the way we regard each other differs based on both our gender and relational goals.
Attraction and Social Comparison
Attraction also involves an element of social comparison. Accordingly, one phenomenon that has been tested through research is the fact that in a dating context, people not only size up each other, but the competition.
One study that revealed how women consider social comparison, measured photograph viewing time. In a study involving showing heterosexual men and women photographs of individuals in bathing suits, Yin Xu et al. (from 2016) found the men to be more gender-specific in viewing time patterns.
They found that with women, however, social comparison attention played a role. While the viewing time of men was only associated with ratings of sexual attractiveness, women viewing photographs of other women were associated with both self-reported sexual attractions and physical appearance social comparison.
Obviously, all women are different, and these results will not apply to everyone. But this is an example of how attention does not necessarily indicate intention. There are different factors that explain why we look at someone longer than our partner might like — when he or she does not understand the reason for our lingering gaze.
The Eyes Have It: They Are Windows to the Soul
Understanding the range of possible explanations for visual behavior is important — but should be interpreted in context. Culture, social conditioning, insecurity, and a wide range of other factors may be at play. Hence the necessity of moving slowly and getting to know the person behind the gaze. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, you want to become acquainted with the character beneath the physical characteristics.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.<
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