In fact, if you pay close attention to the direction in which a person looks, how he maintains his gaze, and how his facial expressions affect his eyes, you can infer a lot about his personality and emotional state without ever having him do or say anything to make it obvious.
When someone breaks eye contact and looks away from you during a conversation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re lying or trying to hide something, as most people have been led to believe.
While it’s true that some people will glance in another direction or look down out of deceit, or because they’re embarrassed or ashamed, looking away is actually a completely normal device for gaining better access to their internal thoughts.
Scientific studies have shown that most people are predominantly left or right eye gazers. Up to 75% of a person’s directional gaze is sent in one direction while he’s digging deeper to think or to remember something.
A creative, right-brained person will naturally look more to the left; an analytical, left-brained person will automatically steer his gaze right.
If you really want to know whether someone might be lying, try asking about a past memory that would ideally need to be described in great visual detail.
A liar would likely direct their gaze downward and to the left, where they could tap into the visual and creative right side of the brain to make something up.
Someone who’s telling the truth would likely turn their gaze to look up and to the right to recall actual events from memory.
The Power of a Fixed Gaze
Liars will often overcompensate to hide any signs of lying by holding their gazes for too long.
The general norm is to keep your gaze on someone else’s eyes 30 to 60% of the time during a conversation, possibly more, if there’s more listening involved than talking.
Maintaining just the right amount of direct eye contact is what creates powerful connections between humans, and anthropologists suspect that the species evolved this way in order to collaborate and cooperate more effectively.
Among the other 220 primates, there are none with irises and pupils that float to show the whites of its eyes. Humans are the only ones to have this trait.
When humans make eye contact with one another, it’s distinctly identifiable by the position of the irises and pupils within the whites, and the same mirror neurons in the cranium are triggered as when a task is performed or an emotion is felt.
In other words, human eyes developed to support deeper communication and create more intimate bonds, and those connections are further emphasized by facial expressions involving the other muscles in the face. This is especially true of smiling.
A Smile from Eye to Eye
It turns out that a sincere, genuine smile is always accompanied by expression in the eyes.
Unlike a fake smile, which doesn’t affect the eyes and is controlled by the motor cortex part of the brain, Duchenne smiles are generated by the limbic system, the area of the brain that controls emotion.
In a study that looked at over 140 yearbook photos of female students in order to analyze their smiles, researchers followed up with each woman as much as 30 years after their photos had been taken to ask about how satisfied they felt with their lives.
The women who were found to exhibit Duchenne smiles in their photos reported that they were more positively satisfied with their lives, compared to the women who appeared to put on a fake smile or no smile at all, proving that emotion, smiling, and the gaze are all interlinked.
Connecting Beyond the Surface
It’s not really all that surprising that research has shown that high levels of eye contact can influence positive perceptions of almost anything about another person, including dominance, attraction, trustworthiness, and emotional stability.
Truth be told, you really do get a deeper glimpse into people’s minds through their eyes.
The eyes are indeed the one facial feature capable of saying more about a person than perhaps any other.