When you first meet people, do you know how to read them–their emotions and thoughts? There’s an old saying, “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Sound familiar? We say it’s not wrong!

We can read a lot about people based on their eye behavior, especially hidden emotions. In this post, I want to break down different eye behaviors and cues.

Do you know how to read people’s minds in their eyes? Can you tell what a person is feeling just by making eye contact? Let’s put your eye-reading skills to the test.

Test Your Decoding Skills

If you think you have what it takes to know the hidden meaning behind the eyes, it’s time to put your skills to the test. We love conducting new experiments on human behavior here in our Science of People human behavior research lab, and we want to know how good you are at interpreting emotions, just from the eyes alone.

We created a little quiz with different people making facial expressions, but here’s the kicker — we only let you see their eyes! We would love your help. So, to put your skills to the test, please take the quiz below:

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Baselining the Eyes

Before getting into details, I first have to explain the importance of baselining. The first step to figuring out if someone is lying to you is to find their baseline.

A baseline is how someone acts when they are under normal, non-threatening conditions. You easily can establish baselines by sitting down with the person you want to read better—your child, your spouse, your friend–and talking casually to them about neutral topics that they would have no reason to lie about, such as the weather or what they want to have for dinner. Take note of how they act, how they hold their body, how they sound.

Once you have established someone’s baseline, you can look for some of the typical gestures people make with their eyes, outlined below. If you see one of these clues and it is different from their baseline behavior, you know it is a red flag and you have to dig a little deeper.

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#1 Eye-Blocking

Covering or shielding the eyes often is seen when people literally do not like what they see. You will see this when people feel threatened by something or are repulsed by what they are hearing or seeing. This is an indicator of an uncomfortable reaction.You also see eye-blocking in the form of eye-rubbing or lots of blinking. Eye-blocking is a powerful display of consternation, disbelief, or disagreement. This is actually an innate behavior–children who are born blind still cover their eyes when they hear bad news.

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#2 Pupillometry

Our pupils dilate when we see something stimulating or when we are in low light. If we are aroused, our pupils dilate to take in more of our pleasing surroundings. Often during courtship, pupils stay dilated. You can tell when someone is aroused by looking closely at their pupils in constant, standard-level light.

  • Advertisers almost always widen the pupils of women in their ads because it makes their product look arousing and welcoming.
  • When we see something negative, our pupils tend to constrict to block out the offensive imagery.

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Eye Behavior Starts Young

Research shows that infants have the ability to respond to different eye gazes as early as seven months old! Babies know the importance of eye cues for bonding and, therefore, are able to detect subtle, unconscious social cues that provide the foundation for developing social skills.

eye movements

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Squinting

People often squint at you when they do not like you or something you are saying. It can indicate suspicion (the same principle as eye-blocking, above; blocking out what they do not like). If you see someone squint at you (and it is not low light) address them directly and clarify your point. They often will be amazed you picked up on their disbelief.

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Eyebrows

We raise our eyebrows in a quick flash to draw attention to the face and send clear communication signals. I have noticed I do this when I want to be understood or emphasize a point. Raising the eyebrows is a gesture of congeniality and an indication we want to get along and communicate better.

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Eye Signs and Chronic Disease

Research shows that an eye exam might be the best way to detect early signs of a few chronic health conditions. Sixty-two percent of high cholesterol cases can be spotted by examining the eyes. Thirty-nine percent of high blood pressure cases and thirty-four percent of diabetes cases can be spotted with signs noted in eye exams.

eyes and health

 

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Synchrony or Mimicry

Mimicry or synchrony is when your behavior mimics or mirrors someone else’s. You can mimic someone else’s eye movement to build rapport. Although, use this with caution–it is difficult to mimic someone in a genuine, subtle way. If they notice, it can feel creepy or forced.

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Eyes and Courtship

Eye behavior is an important part of courtship. Here are the many ways we use our eyes and the surrounding area in romance:

  • Women pluck their eyebrows higher up their forehead because it makes us look more helpless. This actually releases hormones in a man’s brain to protect and defend the female.
  • Women tend to raise their eyebrows and lower their eyelids to give the look of orgasming (think Marilyn Monroe).
  • Looking up and to the side is a “come hither” look from a woman to a man.
  • Gazing at someone often engages their attention and encourages them to like you in return.
  • Researcher Monica Moore found that men often miss a woman’s first eye–gazing courtship signal. On average, she needs to do it three times before the man notices.
  • A sideways glance over a raised shoulder highlights curves and the roundness of the female face, which signifies estrogen and exposes the vulnerability and pheromones of the neck. A great move for women trying to flirt.

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Gazing

Gazing can be an intimate activity. In fact, if you disagree with a superior, you can show disagreement by holding your gaze for a bit longer than normal. An interesting experiment shows the importance of gazing while dating. In one experiment, researchers told one partner on a blind date that the other had an eye problem, but that they didn’t know which eye was slow. This caused the person to do deep eye-gazing to try figuring out which eye was the problem eye. Interestingly, compared to people on the control group dates (they were told nothing about an eye problem) the people on the eye-problem-date scored each other much better, and rated the date higher and more intimate.

There are three types of gazing:

  1. Social Gazing – This is a triangle from the eyes to the mouth. It is not aggressive and shows comfort.
  2. Intimate Gazing – If you want to be intimate with someone, you want to look from their eyes to their mouth, and then lower to the body. If someone is doing this to you, it usually means they are having intimate thoughts about you.
  3. Power Gazing – This is a triangle between the eyes and the forehead. It avoids the intimate areas of the mouth and body completely.

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Sideways Glance

This usually denotes uncertainty or the need for more info. If someone is sideways glancing and also has a furrowed brow, it can indicate suspicion or critical feelings. A sideways glance with eyebrows up, on the other hand, usually indicates interest or is a sign of courtship.

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Looking Down One’s Nose

If someone lifts their head and looks down their nose at you, it usually means they feel superior.

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Darting Eyes

Darting eyes always mean the person feels insecure. They often are looking for escape routes from talking to you.

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Glasses

Studies show that women who wear glasses and makeup make the best impressions in business. Also, those who wear glasses and peer over their lenses at others are always intimidating.

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Women

Women observe and examine men more in interviews. They especially notice the back of men’s shoes as they walk out the door.

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Controlling Where People Look

During presentations, you actually can use people’s eyes to lead them in topics. Use your pen to garner attention. You actually can hold it at eye-level and then lift the person’s head when you make a point. You also can compare points by drawing people’s eyes to the right and left.

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Eye Direction

A number of studies talk about the direction of eyes during lies. Typically, when people look up and to the right, they are lying or tapping into their imagination. When they look up and to the left, they are remembering or recalling something, tapping into the memory part of the brain. However, be sure you get to know their natural movements, because this can be reversed for left-handed people. Here are some other guidelines observed in people:

  • Looking to Their Right = Auditory Thought (remembering a song)
  • Looking to Their Left = Visual Thought (remembering the color of a dress)
  • Looking Down to Their Right = Someone creating a feeling or sensory memory (thinking what it would be like to swim in jello).
  • Looking Down to Their Left = Someone talking to themself.

This can help you detect a lie. If you ask someone a question and they look down to the right, they are creating a memory instead of remembering something. Note of caution: I have not been able to find a study replicating this effect–so only use with caution!

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Beware of the Following Eye Cues

Our eyes are windows into our health. If you spot any of the following eye cues, be sure to get them checked out.

eye cues

I hope this post has given you some insight — or some eyesight — into the hidden behavior of the eyes. They are fascinating windows into the soul, the body, and the mind.

Citations:

Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-reading People. New York, NY: Collins Living, 2008.

Ekman, Paul. Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. New York: Norton, 1985.

Pease, Allan, and Barbara Pease. The Definitive Book of Body Language. New York: Bantam, 2006.

Meyer, Pamela. Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception. New York: St. Martin’s, 2010.

Craig, David. Lie Catcher: Become a Human Lie Detector in under 60 Minutes. Newport, N.S.W.: Big Sky, 2011.

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Ready to keep learning? Read on…

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

29 replies on “How to Read People’s Eye Direction and Behavior”

  1. Dame

    I believe that when people look up and to the left, they are attempting to access the creative compartments in the brain. Possibly to fabricate, or lie. Also we think about food, we instinctively look down, to remember the smell

  2. Theresa Harris

    Thank you very much for this article. It is fun and I bookmarked it. I constantly look back on it. It is almost physiology of the brain!
    Very very helpful.

  3. Jocelyn

    Just a query here, away from body language and romance. I am a grandmother and I have a grandson who suffers from an anxiety problem. To the extent that he does not even eat in front of people. Has grow up with the Selective Mutant Syndrome where he only spoke to his parents with a yes or no. Nodded to indicate yes or no to his teachers. He now at the age of sixteen has great difficulty in communicating with anyone. He is a very nervous young man. He has been seeing a counsellor at our local hospital for fifteen months now. There has been a little progress, but a big struggle. The reason for my story is because his pupils are always large. Can anyone give me any information regarding his problem.

  4. Karla

    I think that this article is very interesting especially since they do say the eyes are the window to the soul.

  5. Dan

    Interesting, but I’m not sure about the part of eye direction. I think that the fact that you have not been able to find a study replicating this effect happened for some reason, I think there’s much more to it 🙂

  6. Nikki Thornton

    This is one of my most favourite articles yet! The eyes are so important and its one of the first things that i notice about a person. I wear contact lenses now but years ago before I went to the optician, i used to squint real bad but not realizing this. After reading this article has made me wonder whether I used to look continually suspicious at everything! Awesome information.

  7. Lauren Freeman

    While reading through these I found myself making the faces and expressions myself and thinking of situations in which these expressions would be used! This is so fun for me!! I always eye-block when I see a scary movie or if I see someone in pain. And I know that me and my girlfriends tend to make squinty eyes at scummy men who try to hit on us at bars, imagining our faces now really makes me laugh! One thing I wonder about is why women tend to look at the back of mens shoes when they walk out the door.. is that only in an interview situation? Or in any type of situation? I’ve never noticed that, that I can recall, but I might now!!

  8. Andrew

    My favorite part about this article is what the eye direction movements mean since it is one of the subconscious indicators we use that many people aren’t aware of. Once you’re able to get these movements memorized it’s much easier to read people!

  9. Robby Smith

    Another great article on reading people’s emotions!! It’s interesting that Researcher Monika Moore found that men often miss a women’s first eye-gazing courtship signal and that they need to give it three times before we as man get the hint.

  10. Feet2Fire


    Looking to Their Right = Auditory Thought (Remembering a song)
    Looking to Their Left = Visual Thought (Remembering the color of a dress)

    Have always heard that looking to the left is remembering something from the past and looking to the right is anticipating something in the future.

  11. wray

    I have had suspicions about my girlfriend cheating on mea lot of the signs are there and she denies it all the time but last night II said once a cheater always a cheatershe instantly started rubbing her eyes and looked awayI know she loves me and I love her but is that a pretty strong sign

    1. Danielle McRae

      Hi Wray, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry to hear about your current situation. Remember, there is not ONE SIGN that means someone is lying. Our recommendation is that you always baseline first (observe how they act in a calm, neutral environment), then look for red flags as you press deeper into the conversation. Three red flags is seen as a cluster, and you should definitely discuss this topic more. -Danielle and the Science of People Team

  12. Pepper rae

    I work with a man who picks his nose aggressively when staring at small children. Is this a sign of aggression?

    1. Vanessa Van Edwards

      Oh my goodness this is gross. I have not seen nose picking as a sign of aggression. Probably a sign that he is very inept at social norms!

      1. Vanessa Van Edwards

        Oh…there is research that says the nose tissue swells with blood when aroused. Ugh I hope there is no correlation here!

    2. Steven Lougheed

      I don’t know about you, but i would call the authorities and have him removed from that scenario. Maybe it is just me, but that could just be a nervous twitch. One that only shows itself when staring at children….. Which kind of makes me a bit leery of his ….. goals in life…..

  13. jonathon

    Hey this is really interesting I actually came to this page to understand what I was feeling and realized I was eye-blocking (because I was disgusted with someone)

    I find that its really awkward to acknowledge something like that in a social context. “sorry but I find you repulsive and creepy”. Is that how women feel when they meet a creepy guy? disgusted and superior?

    Much love infinite waters diving deep once again PEEEEEEAAAAAACE

  14. Brendan

    You wrote: “There are a number of studies that talk about the direction of eyes during lies.”

    I was wondering if you have any citations for these studies, because I was unable to find any during a preliminary search.

    Thanks!

    1. Vanessa Van Edwards

      Hi Brendan!

      Thanks for writing in! The study on eye gazing is interesting. As I mentioned above I don’t rely on it bc it simply has not been accurate enough for me except when I baseline first and even then there are so many other more reliable indicators of deceit. Check out this study and some of the articles he references if you want to dig a little deeper:

      http://pss.sagepub.com/content/14/6/644.short

      Best,

      Vanessa

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