Interpreting Eye Movement

Interpreting Eye Movement
When you’re talking to someone, observe their eyes – because what their lips won’t tell you, their eyes can betray.

The old adage is ‘Eyes are the windows of the soul’. Where people’s words may lie, the eyes don’t. The key to sharper interpersonal communications, then, is knowing what the eyes are telling you. The next time you’re conversing with someone, notice their eyes carefully, and then check these common eye gestures below and their interpretations.

  1. Looking upwards. Typically, looking upwards towards one’s forehead means the person is thinking, and often recalling something they have memorized. However, looking upwards can also be a sign of dishonesty (they could be trying to remember which lie they told earlier). The best way to tell which is to ask the person to recall something you already know to be a fact and observe their eye movements recalling a fact. Then use that pattern of gestures as a baseline for other, less certain conversations.
  2. Looking downwards. Looking downwards can have several interpretations, depending on which part of the world you are in. In cultures where direct eye contact is considered rude, looking downwards is considered polite. Looking down without making any eye contact is also a signal of submission – the person is aware they are facing an authority. In some instances, looking downwards with eye contact can be communication that the person disapproves of what you are saying (hence the term ‘looking down’ on abnormal behavior).
  3. Looking side to side. This is most frequently associated with lying, although if it is done while lowering the voice, they may be checking to see if anyone is around before they share a secret. Remember that the person’s secret can also be untrue. In shoppers, looking side to side can mean that the shopper is assimilating the allover effect of the merchandise, such as a splashy window display.
  4. Looking someone up and down. This is confrontational eye movement – someone is sizing you up as a threat or as a romantic interest. Men should be careful not to look at women like this is the workplace, because it is considered unprofessional in most work cultures.
  5. Gazing. The steady gaze can have a variety of meanings, depending on the situation. Typically, it is the sign of rapt attention, often adoration. However, some people who are being dishonest may overcompensate for their dishonesty by looking you in the eye for an unnaturally long period of time. Gazing away from the focal item in the room typically suggests daydreaming or boredom. Shoppers will gaze at items as they make purchasing decisions.
  6. Glancing. Repeated glancing typically signifies a desire for the item being glanced at – they feel that gazing would be forbidden, so they steal as many glances as possible. This is especially true when someone finds another person in the room attractive. People who feel trapped in a situation may glance frequently at the door or at another person they know in the room.
  7. Staring. Staring is a harder, more direct and extended look at someone than gazing. Staring at someone or something typically conveys shock or surprise. Often you will see people start at their phones or television screens in disbelief at a news item they find disconcerting. Staring also conveys aggression, which is why we use the phrase ‘staring someone down’. Persistent eye contact is typically seen as aggressive. The implication is that the first person to break the stare loses. Young children often stare at people until they have learned the norms of their culture about staring, and you will often hear parents in public admonishing their young children not to stare.
  8. Squinting. Squinting has many meanings, depending on the context. The most obvious meaning is that the squinter is trying to see something more clearly (in this situation, the squinter will either move closer to the object of his attention, or move the object closer to his face if it is possible to do so). Squinting also happens when light suddenly changes, becoming brighter or more direct. Squinting can also convey a struggle to understand what is being said. If you are a teacher, you might ask a squinting student if they would like to ask a question for clarification. Squinting can also happen when someone is sizing up an inanimate object, such as estimating distance between two times, or estimating how much something might weigh.
  9. Blinking. Blinking is, of course, an automatic action to keep the front of the eyeball clean and moist. Most of us blink every 6-10 seconds. However, the rate at which we blink can change, depending on our circumstances. An extra blink typically means that the blinker is making sure s/he is seeing something correctly. A lot of blinking (known in some cultures as ‘battering the eyelashes’) is flirtatious and can be a sign of romantic attraction.
  10. Eye rubbing. Generally, people rub their eyes when the eyes feel irritated. However, it can also be a sign of frustration. It is very common for people, especially children, to rub their eyes when becoming tired.
  11. Avoiding eye contact. Looking everywhere but the person speaking to us is the sign that we are ashamed or uncomfortable (or both). This is the reason that those who are lying with overcompensate by giving you an unnatural amount of eye contact – they are trying not to display their more natural impulse, which is not to make eye contact with you at all.
  12. Crying/emitting tears. Typically, tears are a sign of great physical or emotional pain, although some people will also weep when they are filled with joy as well. Crying that is falsified in order to gain sympathy is known in Western cultures as ‘crocodile tears’. Tears are also a sign that the eye itself is affected by a foreign irritant
  13. The ‘eyebrow flash’. This is a silent greeting made by raising both eyebrows while looking at someone, often accompanied with a quick up tilt of the chin.
  14. Widened eyes. Opening the eyes very widely is a common sign of surprise. Interestingly, studies show that men feel protective of women who look at them in this way.

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