Whether you’re at a job interview or on a first date, eye contact is generally seen as a good thing. That doesn’t seem to make it any less uncomfortable A for some people.
If you’ve ever struggled to hold another person’s stare for more than a few seconds at a time, you’re not alone.
A recent study found that people have a “preferred gaze duration” of 3.3t seconds on average, Science reports. The study, which was recently published in Royal Society Open Science, had 498 participants watch the same video of a woman staring into the camera.
They were instructed to make eye contact with the actress and press a button once they began to feel uncomfortable. In addition to the volunteers’ own self-reporting, researchers also measured eye movement and pupil size using eye-tracking technology. The sweet spot came out to 3.3 seconds, with approximately .07 seconds of wiggle room for the average participant’s preferred gaze duration.
Factors like age and gender of the participants weren’t found to produce any significant differences, but the researchers do note that staring at a screen isn’t a perfect replacement for real world interaction.
Pupil dilation was also a sign of a person’s willingness to maintain eye contact.
When we look into someone else’s eyes, our pupils dilate automatically. The faster this happened to volunteers the longer they tended to hold their gaze. We know that eye contact is an important part of human interaction, but the point at which it becomes too much or too little has proven harder to pin down.