Research has shown that women make more eye contact than men do. Why should this be so? Below are just a few of the possible reasons why:
- Connection: Women are other-oriented. They seem more interested in affiliation, bonding, acceptance, and social maintenance. Consequently, they look more.
- Intimacy: Intimacy is important for women, and making eye contact is one way a woman tries to get close. Think of a couple out for their anniversary dinner, gazing into each other’s eyes. In conversation with people they like, women tend to increase their looking while talking.
- Sincerity/Deception: Women try to take a read on the authenticity of their interlocutor. The mother who admonishes her child, “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” She would be seeking out cues of lying such as averted or downcast eyes. Now imagine a wife who believes her husband is cheating on her. When she asks him why he came home so late at night, he looks away. She surmises from his eye behavior that her suspicions are true.
- Continual Feedback: Women self-monitor. They look to the other person’s expression for validation: Is my message okay? Does he understand? Does she approve? They make eye contact to observe if the other person likes what they are saying: “He just grimaced. I’d better change my message.” This kind of scrutiny gives them a chance to self-assess and edit their message.
- Information Gathering: Since, women are often excluded from informative interactions with men, and men tend to use the stone face to mask their feelings, women must be more attentive during interactions in order to glean as much as they can. They are often “checking in” with men for the appropriateness of their behavior. In one study, men and women were asked to conceal their feelings. Interestingly, given these instructions, women looked more at their conversational partner, but men looked less. The women were trying to detect from the men’s reactions whether their emotions had leaked out. Perhaps women have more reason to be “on guard” when concealing or denying their true emotions.
- Monitoring Group Interactions: If ever there are group meetings, as the speaker is talking, you can observe the women at the table glancing around the room, checking others’ facial expressions, and using eye contact and gaze behavior to collect information and gain a read on the group. This behavior is not as typical with men in a group-meeting setting.