You can determine a lot by looking into a person’s eyes. For years, scientists have studied how eye contact builds trust and if it reveals whether someone is lying. Now, a new study published in the Royal Society Open Science today examines exactly how long we prefer to look someone in the eyes.
The tricky thing about managing eye contact in real world settings is that it isn’t an exact science. Each person has different preferences and comfort levels. If eye contact is too short, it makes you look untrustworthy. If you glare for too long, it makes you seem overly interested and kind of creepy. The guessing game is nearly impossible to solve without the help of advanced computers.
To conduct the experiment, the researchers asked a group of 498 people to watch a video of a person staring into the screen. The test subjects were asked to press a button if the eye contact became uncomfortable at any point—either too short or too long. Researchers tracked the movement of their eyes and size of their pupils using eye-tracking technology. They discovered, on average, people preferred to look someone in the eyes for 3.3 seconds.
The researchers determined this by measuring how quickly a subject’s pupils dilated. The longer a person wanted to stare someone in the eyes, the faster their pupils expanded.
This doesn’t mean that you should bring a stopwatch to your next date, but it should give you a better sense of what will really help you connect with a person: look them in the eyes a couple of seconds at a time.