You’ve probably heard that eye contact is important. It’s one of the first things you’ll learn if you take a course in public speaking. They’ll tell you eye contact demonstrates confidence and engages listeners. That’s true. Even Cuddle Labs has stipulated that eye contact is one of the integral elements of a good cuddle. But did you know that there is a whole field of research dedicated to exploring the significance, perceived and biological, of eye contact? It’s called Oculesics, and it’s revealed a lot of really interesting information pertaining to cuddling. Most pertinent is the discovery that prolonged eye contact stimulates the production of oxytocin, just like a social touch.

So, think about your own experiences with eye contact. If you live in a big city, like me, you may find yourself wondering about it a lot, thanks to a city’s tendency to push a bunch of total strangers into a small space for an extended period of time (like the subway). Usually, if my eyes meet someone else’s, both lookers quickly look away. Why is that? What makes eye contact uncomfortable in that situation? And what if I maintain eye contact? Keeping a straight face feels totally weird. I have to smile. And if I smile, the person I’m looking at will usually smile back. So eye contact is either awkward or induces smiling. Weird.

We feel these ways because eye contact is actually a very intimate behavior. It feels uncomfortable if you’re not feeling intimate with the other participant. It feels just the same as it might if you hugged that same person, or if they hugged you. It crosses a boundary that we only take down when we’re feeling safe and open. It’s really like a hands-free cuddle. And don’t forget about these same feelings coming up with people you do know. So much can be communicated solely through eye contact. So what’s going on here? Why does eye contact feel so similar to physical contact?  Continue reading

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