Ever since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, several countries have gone into lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. This has led to most companies asking their employees to work from home, and working in our pyjamas has become the new normal.
And while we are busy communicating with our colleagues via video chats, researchers at Florida Atlantic University have noticed something interesting about it. Neuroscientists from the university have found that a person’s gaze is altered during telecommunication if they think that the person on the other end of the conversation can see them.
According to the researchers, this phenomenon is known as “gaze cueing,” and is a powerful signal for orienting attention. It is a mechanism that likely plays a role in the developmentally and socially important wonder of “shared” or “joint” attention, where a number of people attend to the same object or location.
“Because gaze direction conveys so much socially relevant information, one’s own gaze behaviour is likely to be affected by whether one’s eyes are visible to a speaker,” said Elan Barenholtz, associate professor of psychology.
Confused? Let us help you with an example. When you're in a meeting, people may signal that they are paying more attention to a speaker by fixating their face or eyes during a conversation. You would make a conscious effort to not look down at your phone and look at the person talking, right? That's gaze cueing.
“Conversely, extended eye contact also can be perceived as aggressive and therefore noticing one’s eyes could lead to reduced direct fixation of another’s face or eyes. Indeed, people engage in avoidant eye movements by periodically breaking and reforming eye contact during conversations,” explained Barenholtz.
Turns out, people are very sensitive to the gaze direction of others, and science has just proven it. Even two-day-old infants prefer faces where the eyes are looking directly back at them!
So the next time you're on a video call, make sure you make extra effort to pay attention to look at the person talking!