The New Rules of Maintaining Eye Contact (Hint: Don't Do It)

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What's the Right Amount of Eye Contact?

A new study is casting doubt on the idea that maintaining eye contact is the best way to get ahead in life.

Writing in the journal Psychological Science, a group of psychologists described a number of experiments they conducted to determine the role of eye contact in successfully persuading other people to your viewpoint. What they found was at odds with most traditional views of powerful body language.

"Popular belief holds that eye contact increases the success of persuasive communication, and prior research suggests that speakers who direct their gaze more toward their listeners are perceived as more persuasive," the authors write in the paper's abstract. "In contrast, we demonstrate that more eye contact between the listener and speaker during persuasive communication predicts less attitude change in the direction advocated."

In one experiment, they had subjects watch video of a speaker advocating various views while eye-tracking software recorded where they were looking. Those who focused on the speaker's eyes turned out to be less persuaded by the argument.

Another experiment, in which the subject was predisposed to disagree with the speaker, found that eye contact was counterproductive to winning over a skeptical audience.

We're not sure that we'd advocate starting at your feet at your next job interview. But if you're working on a tough sell -- either on a date, an interview or a sales pitch -- don't think that staring deep into the other person's eyes is going to seal the deal.

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