How Eye Contact Prepares the Brain to Connect

We all know the power of eye contact with another human being. It is something very special that helps us to transmit a lot of information and that, in turn, tells us a lot about the other person. When we make eye contact with someone we are sharing an affective and mental state.

Good friends just need a cross between eyes to communicate something. To lose yourself in the eyes of the beloved person is to enter into their world. Visual contact activates our social brain, our intentions and our emotions.

Now, a new study carried out with magnetic resonance imaging has revealed a lot of information about what activates visual contact in our brain in real time and in deferred time. The first fact is that, when we make eye contact, we synchronize our blinking with the other person. But there is much more. Lets go see it.

Blinking in eye contact

It seems that the eye contact activates the social brain and synchronizes the eye movements and the blinking of two people who look into each other’s eyes. That is, there is a neural activation that reorganizes our response to other people.

Visual contact is one of the most prominent automatic mimicry. Also, it is the way to tell the other that we are serving you. Promotes social interaction and facilitates effective communication. The blinking of eyes expresses a cognitive load that projects the internal state of people.

Until now, brain imaging studies were only able to study the brain activity of only one person at a time. But the team of Norihiro Sadato, of the National Institute of Physiological Sciences of Japan, began to work with a novel technique known as hyperscan.

The study

The results of this experiment show us what happens in the brain, in real time, when two people look into each other’s eyes for the first time. Hyperscan has allowed us to observe the brain of two people at the same time, in separate functional magnetic resonance machines, and have them communicate visually. In this study, Sadato’s team used 32 people, grouped by pairs and put them in two RMf machines at the same time.

The experiment could not be done with the subjects looking at each other face-to-face in person because the obtaining of images with magnetic resonance requires that the individuals have to be inside a machine and stay completely still.

Each scanner was also equipped with a video screen and a camera. The participants did not know each other, so the eye contact was completely new for all of them. Blinking of the eyes was used as a synchronization marker among the participants.

The experiment measured the brain activity of the subjects in two different phases. In the first one they were shown a blank screen, to then show them the image of their experiment partner (whom they did not know), first in real time and then with 20 seconds of delay in the image. They were instructed to focus on what the other person was thinking, what their personality might be or how they felt.

The results

In the first place, significant differences were detected in terms of brain activation of visual contact in real time and that produced with seconds of delay.

During the real time the participants were more sensitive to the flickerings of the other individual than in the images outside of time. There was also greater connectivity in the limbic mirror system, greater activation in the cerebellum.

The study showed that visual contact prepares the social brain to develop empathy and activates the same brain areas in both people at the same time. Activation of the cerebellum helps predict the sensory consequences of actions.

“Our findings suggest that perceptual-motor interaction occurs during eye contact without conscious awareness.”

-Norihiro Sadato-

The incredible capacity of our brain

The limbic system is associated with our ability to share and recognize emotions, which is essential for the emergence of empathy. It seems that there is a strong mutual influence between the blinks of both people when it occurs with visual touch.

This means that visual contact prepares the social brain to share the mental states of other people and is the basis for effective social communication. Finally this study showed that our brains distinguish between real-time images and recorded images in an absolutely unconscious way. A fact that is revealed to us as the most significant of all.