Ever Been On The Receiving End Of Too Much Eye Contact? Yeah, It's Creepy

Eye contact is great. Too much eye contact, not so much. Studies show the ideal amount of eye contact is 3.2 seconds. Much longer, and people start to feel uncomfortable. Much shorter, and they feel ostracized.

Why It Matters

Eye contact is one of the earliest non-verbal communication tools that humans develop. It's how we show respect and interest, it helps us persuade people to do what we want, and the lack of it can quickly communicate if we're lying or if we dislike someone. "Eye contact provides some of the strongest information during a social interaction," James Wirth, a social psychologist at Ohio State University at Newark, told Scientific American. But getting eye contact right is tricky, and more isn't necessarily better. In a study published in Royal Academy Open Science, researchers found the participants liked eye contact best when it was 3.2 seconds. Any longer, and a gaze quickly goes from courteous to creepy.

Except — and this is where it gets even more tricky — if you're perceived as generally trustworthy and non-threatening. In that case, people are ok if you hold their gaze a little longer. "Gaze conveys that you are an object of interest, and interest is linked to intention," psychologist Alan Johnston, coauthor of the Royal Academy study, told Scientific American. Translation: If you're perceived as threatening — even if you have only the best intentions — it might be assumed you're up to no good.

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Why People Should Know

Because every day, both men and women speak about 16,000 words. Sure, some of that is on the phone or to yourself, but enough of it is face-to-face chatter that understanding the implications of your nonverbal communication skills becomes key to your interpersonal relationships and, often, to your personal success.

Editors' Picks: What We Want You To Know About Eye Contact

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The Ambiguous Intensity Of Eye Contact

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When Eye Contact May Not Be Persuasive

If you don't agree with someone, eye contact will probably not change your mind.

Written by Curiosity Staff February 1, 2015

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