If you’ve ever stared down a persistent salesperson, you know how powerful looking into someone’s eyes can be. But a new study published in Psychological Science finds that, unlike popularly believed, eye contact might make it harder for you to change someone’s mind.
In two experiments, German researchers asked people to watch videos of speakers talking about controversial topics like assisted suicide or nuclear energy.
Listeners who looked the virtual speaker in the eye were less likely to change their opinion to match that of the speaker’s. In effect, eye contact decreased the power of persuasion.
But eye contact doesn’t always mean resisting the hard sell. Listeners in the study who already agreed with the speaker spent more time looking the speaker in the eye. In this case, say the researchers, it’s more comfortable to look someone in the eyes if you agree with them … or “see eye to eye" with them.
But when it comes to persuasion, eye contact is not always a good thing. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to convince your girlfriend that it’s time for a new plasma TV. If you go all salesman on her, you might end up watching the big game in low-def.