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:
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.
Eye-Related Nonverbal Clues:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 all can be spotted with signs noted in eye exams.
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.
Eyes and Courtship
Eye behavior is an important part of courtship. Here are the many ways we use our eyes and 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.
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:
- Social Gazing – This is a triangle from the eyes to the mouth. It is non-aggressive and shows comfort.
- Intimate Gazing – If you want to be intimate with someone, you want to look from their eyes to their mouth and lower to the body. If someone is doing this to you, it usually means they are having intimate thoughts about you.
- Power Gazing – This is a triangle between the eyes and the forehead. It avoids the intimate areas of the mouth and body completely.
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.
Looking Down One’s Nose
If someone lifts their head and looks down their nose at you, it usually means they feel superior.
Darting eyes always mean the person feels insecure. They often are looking for escape routes from talking to you.
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 always are intimidating.
Women observe and examine men more in interviews. They especially notice the back of men’s shoes as they walk out the door.
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.
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 themselves.
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!
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.
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.
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.