Brain Scans Reveal Why Eye Contact Is Important In Social Interactions

Dec 21, 2015 12:50 PM EST | By Maria Leonila Masculino


People gaze into each other's eyes when they are in-love, share the same understanding or to build trust.

Medical Daily reports a new study published in the journal NeuroImage explains why establishing eye contact is important in social interactions.

For the study, researchers from the National Institute of Physiological Science (NIPS) observed the brain activity of 96 participants when they stared into the eyes of people they never met before. Three experiments were conducted in the course of two days with the use of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.

"We expected that eye-blink synchronization would be a sign of shared attention when performing a task requiring joint attention, and the shared attention would be retained as a social memory," said NIPS researcher Takahiko Koike, the study's co-author.

Although the researchers hypothesized that people blink in sync due to them mimicking each other, they found out that the synchronized blinking was just actually prompted by their mutual gaze. The fMRI scans showed that the brain region called the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) lit up as a response to direct eye contact. As participants continue to gaze into each other's eyes, the brains synchronized and lit up at the same time. This reveals how it is necessary to establish eye contact in social interactions.

"Based on the enhancement of behavioral and neural synchronization during mutual gaze, we now know that shared attention is hard to establish without eye contact," said study's lead author Norihiro Sadato. "Further investigation into the workings of eye contact may reveal the specific functional roles of neural synchronization between people."

According to another study conducted by fellows at Leiden University in the Netherlands, eye contact is also important in building trust. They have discovered that if two strangers stared into each other's eyes and their pupils dilated, it is likely for an individual to invest triple amount of money than those with pupils that didn't dilate. People's brains automatically build trust bonds when their pupils dilate.

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