Why do you need to look directly into her eyes to grab her attention and discover the love of your life? According to Japanese researchers, mutual eye contact synchronises spontaneous activity in specific areas of the brains of two interacting people.
This synchronised brain activity is crucial in establishing and facilitating face-to-face social interaction, said the team from the National Institute of Physiological Science (NIPS) in Japan.
“Based on the enhancement of behavioural and neural synchronisation during mutual gaze, we now know that shared attention is hard to establish without eye contact,” said Norihiro Sadato, senior author of the study.
To further explore this topic, the team enrolled 96 volunteers who were not mutually acquainted and conducted tests to investigate the brain activity during situations with sustained eye contact.
Participants were paired with different partners and instructed to hold each other’s gaze in real time under various conditions.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor the brain activity that took place during mutual gaze.
“We expected that eye-blink synchronisation would be a sign of shared attention when performing a task requiring joint attention, and the shared attention would be retained as a social memory,” the authors noted.
Indeed, the researchers detected synchronisation of eye-blinks, together with enhanced inter-brain synchronisation in the pairs when eye contact was established.
The outcomes show that synchronisation of eye-blinks is not attributable to a common activity but rather to mutual gaze.
This indicates that mutual eye contact might be a crucial component for human face-to-face social interactions.
Further investigation into the workings of eye contact may reveal the specific functional roles of neural synchronisation between people, the authors noted in a paper which appeared in the journal NeuroImage.