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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thursday's Psychology Trivia: Is Persuasion In the Eye of the Beholder?


Thought for the Day: Today's psychology trivia question is:

     True or False:
         People who make eye contact are more persuasive and viewed as more likable & competent.


You may think you know the answer, but it may surprise you. 


The answer is both true & false, depending on whether you agree with, are leaning toward agreeing with, disagree with, or have no opinion on the topic. We have all been taught to “Stand up straight & look people in the eye” in order to engage & influence others when we speak to them. 

However, a new study by Frances S. Chen (1,2), Julia A. Minson (3), Maren Schöne (1), & Markus Heinrichs (1,4found that eye contact may at times "increase resistance to persuasion." Whether eye contact helps or hinders your ability to change someone's opinion actually depends on how similar the listener's opinions are to your opinions. Persuasion actually may be in the eye of the beholder's belief systems.

In one study, researchers 1st assessed participants' political views. Then, the participants watched videos of speakers discussing controversial political topics. Some of the speakers looked directly into the camera, while others looked away from the camera. Participants eye movements were tracked to see how often they looked into the speakers eyes. Then, the participants filled out questionnaires to assess whether they had changed their views on the topics presented in the videos.

They found that if a participant's views were leaning in the speaker's direction before listening to the video,when they looked them in the eye more often they were persuaded by their arguments. However, the opposite occurred when they disagreed with or had no opinion about the speaker's views prior to viewing the video.  If they disagreed with the speaker, the more they looked the speakers in the eye, the less they were persuaded by them.

In a second study, participants listened to speakers talking about issues about which the participants disagreed. In this study participants were instructed to look either at the speaker's mouth or their eyes. Those participants who looked at the speakers' mouths were more likely to be persuaded by the speaker than those who looked the speaker in the eye.

These findings certainly raise some interesting questions for political analysts & politicians to consider in preparations for political debates. Strategies may be different when the polls contain more undecided voters &/or people who disagree with their platforms.

Thanks to Casey Johnston: Eye contact may not be a social cure-all

Locking eyes with someone may not be the universal route to persuasion for the article which inspired this weeks's Psychology trivia question.



  1. 1Department of Psychology, Laboratory for Biological and Personality Psychology, University of Freiburg
  2. 2Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia
  3. 3Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University
  4. 4Freiburg Brain Imaging Center, University Medical Center, University of Freiburg
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