365 Ways To Persuade & Motivate: #1 Direct Eye Contact Is Not Always Best

Photo of Presidents Clinton and Ford looking at each other

We’ve all been told how important it is to make eye contact when interacting with other people. Direct eye contact makes you seem trustworthy, confident, and interested in the topic you are discussing, right? All those things are true BUT new research shows that direct eye contact can lessen the effectiveness of your message in one critical situation:

Frances Chen researched people listening and watching videos of other people talking about controversial social and/or political topics. Participants watched videos with speakers discussing topics with a strong viewpoint that was opposite to what the participants believed. Some participants were asked to watch the speaker’s eyes, and others were asked to watch the speaker’s mouth. Participants who watched the speaker’s eyes were LESS likely to change their opinion on the topic than the participants who watched the speaker’s mouth.

Why would this be true? Chen’s hypothesis is that direct eye contact can be seen as threatening.


  • If you are talking to people who agree with you, and trying to get them fired up to take action, then use direct eye contact.
  • But If you are talking to people who don’t agree with you, then you may want to minimize the amount of direct eye contact you have.
  • If you are making a video and you believe that people will agree with you, then look right into the camera lense.
  • If you are making a video and you think people don’t agree with you, then look off to the side instead of into the camera.

What do you think? Have you experienced this difference between eye contact and whether you agree with the person speaking?

Here’s the research citation:

Chen, F.S., Minson, J.A., Schöne, M., & Heinrichs, M. (in press). In the eye of the beholder: Eye contact increases resistance to persuasion. Psychological Science.

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

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Posted in attention, eye tracking, How to get people to do stuff, influence, persuasion, Trust Tagged with: , , ,
2 comments on “365 Ways To Persuade & Motivate: #1 Direct Eye Contact Is Not Always Best
  1. The “look at me when I am talking to you” is a cultural, not biological, convention. In other parts of the world looking somebody in the eyes is a sign of lack of respect, that you put yourself on par.
    Chen’s hypothesis of dominance associated with looking in the eyes can be confirmed through animal studies. A dog will be ashamed if the owner looks it directly in the eyes – or may get aggressive it an other person looks it in the eyes and it has not already been established who is “top dog”.

  2. Hayley says:

    In the study of body language, over-sustained eye contact has been associated with lying (despite the myth that less eye contact = lying). I wonder if this somehow links in with loosing persuasion – because too much direct eye contact is perceived as insincere.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "365 Ways To Persuade & Motivate: #1 Direct Eye Contact Is Not Always Best"
  1. […] You can check out the first post of the series here. […]

  2. […] the first blog post of this new “365″ series I cited new research on eye contact. But sometimes I think it’s important to go back to […]

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