What Happens When You Stare Into Someone's Eyes

by Pamela J. Hobart

Eye contact has a powerful role to play in social interactions, but these experiences are kind of fleeting and poorly understood. Thanks to a new study, we now at least know that staring into someone's eyes can cause hallucinations — no drugs required — so be careful where you direct those peepers. Perhaps this weird hallucinatory effect is related to the power of eye-gazing, too.

Italian psychologist Giovanni Caputo has published a paper in Psychiatry Research describing his methods and findings related to staring into another human's eyes. Basically, he took 40 young adult volunteers and split them into two groups, an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group was broken into pairs, who were instructed to stare at each other in a dim room for 10 minutes straight (not awkward at all, I'm sure). Each member of the control group was asked to stare at the wall for 10 minutes instead (fun!).

Although none of the participants knew the nature of the study, the paired-off participants reported more dissociation and hallucination than the wall-staring control group. Dissociation means the participants had begun to lose touch with themselves, reality, and the passing of time. Hallucination means seeing things that aren't really there, in this case including monsters, relatives, or their own face (in place of seeing their partner's face continuously).

The researcher himself doesn't really know why these hallucinations happen, but maybe further studies will help (I'd like to see a comparison between eye-gazing with a stranger and a partner). It's pretty well known that certain illegal drugs can cause hallucinations, so it's tempting to assume that the drugs are responsible, but these participants were sober — so, creepily, hallucination is even possible under normal circumstances. It may be the case that hallucinations are the result of our minds wandering, but that mind wandering is easier and freer when under the influence of something.

In any case, looking into someone's eyes in a prolonged fashion can both indicate that you love them, and can cause you to love them in the first place — so unless you're looking for a trippy experience possibly culminating in love, you'd best watch yourself.

Images: Pixabay; Giphy