Scientifically Speaking, What’s the Perfect Amount of Eye Contact?

It depends — are you having sex, in a job interview, trying to pet a strange dog or all three at once?

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There’s nothing more awkward than speaking to someone who can’t look you in the eye, and there’s nothing creepier than someone who seemingly can’t stop. Solving the problem of finding the perfect amount of eye contact is complicated by the fact that it really depends on the situation. Think about it: The sort of eye contact you maintain during a tantric sex experiment is going to be very different from the level of eye contact you maintain during an interview with a stranger whom you already have a haunting intuition doesn’t like you. To figure out what sort of eye contact you should maintain, let’s look at the situations where it matters most.

During a Job Interview
First impressions blah blah blah. Basically, if you’re on a job interview, you’re already keenly aware of just how little or how much eye contact you’re making. According to an article in The Muse, one suggestion is to look at your interviewer’s eyes long enough to identify what color they are before looking away. “For whatever reason, this amount of time feels natural — and effectively mimics those lucky non-awkward people who can do this instinctively,” per their report.

Honestly, even this seems a little much, considering you could be sitting far away from your interviewer and they keep blinking and the light is making it difficult to know whether their eyes are hazel, brown, rust-colored, or wait, are those contacts…?

The point is, a better, more practical tip comes by way of career expert Kara Ronin, who told The Muse to use a geometrical figure to identify the perfect amount of eye contact to establish between yourself and the person interviewing you. “Draw an imaginary inverted triangle on the other person’s face around their eyes and mouth,” she said. “During the conversation, change your gaze every five to 10 seconds from one point on the triangle to another. This will make you look interested and engrossed in the conversation.”

The downside is, you’ll likely spend so much time concentrating on looking engaged that you won’t hear a single word they say.

While on a Date
Alas, I know it’s annoying, but you sort of have to look your date in the eye if you hope to establish any sort of romantic rapport. In fact, Caitlin Cooper, a New York-based matchmaker at Three Day Rule, told Bustle, “Deep eye contact, and similar posture or movements are markers of deep engagement and that a date is going well.”

But how deep is too deep? It really depends on you and your date. If it makes you feel any better, per the same Bustle article, based on a 2017 survey of 2,000 singles, on average, people on a casual date made eye contact about 11 percent of the time. “According to the experiment, one participant who said they felt ‘no spark’ only locked eyes with their date seven percent of the time,” reports Bustle.

During Sex
According to clinical sexologist Sunny Rodgers, the perfect amount of eye contact during sex really depends on the type of sex play. “It’s incredibly sexy to have eye contact during mutual masturbation,” she says. “Plus, eye contact can allow a person to feel more connected to their partner when they can intimately look them eye-to-eye while sexually gratifying them.”

But of course, eye contact during sex is a different matter. “I tell my couple clients that if they want to connect on a deeper level during lovemaking, to look at each other in their left eyes,” she says. “This specific eye contact alone is powerful intimacy because direct eye-to-eye contact can convey romantic feelings without any words.

Why the left eye though? “Because this connects to a person’s medial prefrontal cortex, which is the part of a person’s brain that can determine if you’re attracted to someone and can send the appropriate response signals throughout a person’s body,” explains Rodgers.

Still, she acknowledges that, at first, eye contact may feel unnatural because you’re looking at how someone else visually expresses their intimate pleasure. With this in mind, she suggests starting slowly with a few peeks during sex play as a good way to get started. “Ideally, if I had to choose a specific time to make eye contact, I’d say during orgasm itself, since this is when emotions are at their highest,” she explains. “For that reason, eye contact for two to three minutes during the peak of sex play is a good goal to aim for.”

And if your sex play only lasts two to three minutes in total, well, that can work, too.

At the Office
If you’re by nature a socially awkward person, it could help you to know that, according to research published in Royal Society Open Science, based on information from 500 participants from 56 countries with an average age of 30, the perfect amount of eye contact should last just over three seconds. “Looking at the distribution of preferences, the vast majority of participants preferred a duration between two and five seconds,” reports Research Digest. “No one preferred eye contact durations of less than a second or longer than nine seconds.”

But there’s also the issue of race and eye contact, which could rear its head anywhere but may be especially noticeable in an office setting. It might surprise you to find out that, based on recent research from the University of Winnipeg, white people have a harder time telling the difference between genuine and fake smiles on black faces than white faces because — and here’s the funky part — white people struggle to maintain eye contact with people of color. “[Justin] Friesen [lead author] suggested that the lack of eye contact may have something to do with social status,” reports Science Daily. “People who have less social standing or power may feel they must pay more attention to higher-status groups because these group members potentially have more control or influence over them.”

So if this applies to you, do better when it comes to looking your colleagues of color in the eye — unless you want fake smiles the rest of your life.

With a Dog
Fun fact: The right amount of eye contact with a dog depends on your relationship to said dog. “Because dogs have an excellent knowledge of body language, using eye contact with your dog is a good way to establish your role as their pack leader,” reports Canidae.com. “A dog that’s challenging you will give you direct eye contact along with other body signals, and how you respond to him with your eyes and body language tells him what he needs to know and where his place in the family hierarchy is.”

Alternatively, if you come across a dog that isn’t yours, staring directly into their eyes is considered rude and can even mean a challenge. “When you’re with your family and friends who know you as an individual, eye contact isn’t as intimidating because you are familiar with them,” per the same article. “It’s the same way with your dogs.”

Because, y’know, dogs are people, too.