6 Things You Didn't Know About Eye Contact

Our eyes are central to our communication, but your habits may not be saying what you think they are. paffy/Shutterstock

The eyes are the windows to the soul, or so the saying goes. Of course, the sayings abound when it comes to eyes: We aspire to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to keep our eye on the prize, to look people in the eye and to see things for what they are. So, naturally, we think of eye contact as a good thing. Catching someone's eye across a crowded table or train station is a powerful way to share an intimate moment with a family member or stranger. Winking at your child or sweetheart silently conveys affection.

We can communicate a world of information with our eyes, but not all of it is positive or well-received. A single glance also can shame, offend or frighten. So before you enter your next staring contest, feast your eyes on these six things your eye contact habits say about you.

1. Making Eye Contact for Too Long Is Bad

Growing up, I was taught to look adults in the eye when I was talking to them, but did you know that holding someone's gaze for too long can be a sign that you are trying to intimidate or dominate them? In a study published in Royal Society Open Science, researchers used eye-tracking technology to determine just how long was the right amount of eye contact. The results? On average, people preferred to look someone in the eyes for 3.3 seconds. Too much longer than that, and things start to get weird. So keep that in mind next time you're trying too hard to hold eye contact.

2. You Can't Hide Your Lyin' Eyes

Long-lasting eye contact can also indicate someone is lying. According to Psychologist World: "Overly persistent eye contact is also a sign of a person's over-awareness of the messages they are emitting. In the case of a person who is try to deceive someone, they may distort their eye contact so that they're not avoiding it — a widely recognized indicator of lying."

3. Our Pupils Widen When We're Interested

Dilated pupils
Our pupils get wider when we're interested in a person or a topic. Lapina/Shutterstock

You can tell how interested someone is in you or in what you're saying by looking at their pupils. Our pupils dilate (get wider) when we are interested in a person or a topic. Conversely, our pupils contract when the conversation gets less stimulating.

4. Rapid Blinking Can Be a Sign of Attraction

On average, people blink 15 to 20 times a minute. When we blink more often than that, it could be a sign that we're attracted to that person. That's why blinking a lot is usually a sign of flirting. (Or perhaps that something is stuck in your eye.)

5. In Some Countries, Winking Is Offensive

In the United States, a wink can mean a shared secret between two people or an indication that someone is joking around. But did you know that in China, winking is downright offensive? Truth be told, even here, if it's a creepy guy in a bar, it might be less welcome.

6. You Can Tell What Someone Is Thinking by the Direction of Their Eyes

If a person is staring off to the left, it's usually a sign that they are trying to recall something, according to Psychologist World. A look to the right usually means there are some creative juices at work. And not always in a good way — some say looking to the right can be an indicator that someone is trying to make up a story. If a person is left-handed, the directions are reversed.