Eye contact and gaze are some of the most salient nonverbal behaviours in human interaction. It is the first connection a mother has with her infant and the first interaction that infant has with anyone. Through gazing forms a very powerful and special bond between mother and infant. However, even mothers differ in their strength and frequency of gaze with their children. Affectionate mothers will go out of their way to kneel so as to bring their eyes into level, whereas, less affectionate mothers tend to lean forward instead and use gaze much less frequently. These experiences from early development formulate our norms which can persist throughout our lives. Only with conscious effort can we change them, but first we must understand the purpose and function of gaze and also what good gaze habits really are.
Over the course of a typical day, eye gaze can reveal cues to interest, attention, affiliation, intimacy, approval, dominance, aggression and openness to personal involvement. Gaze happens in a much different way than a stare. Stares are like daggers, shooting invisible arrows into the face of another. A gaze is inviting and a display of warmth. A gaze includes the attachment of a positive emotion which men sometimes have difficulty with. Lovers are particularly adept at gazing, with bouts sometimes lasting for several minutes, other times even much longer. As early as six children seem to pick up that eye contact and gaze indicate a connection. Young girls tend to realize it sooner than young boys and women tend to enjoy gaze more than men and so use eye contact and gaze more readily. Additionally, women will hold eye-gaze for longer periods of time than men, which is most evident when women gaze at other women.
Gazing is eye language that can take up various meaning depending on how it is done. The “face-gaze” happens when one person directs their eyes at another person’s face. “Eye-gaze”, on the other hand, happens when the gaze is directed toward the eyes of another but of which that person might not reciprocate. “Mutual-gaze” happens when two people look each other’s faces which might include bouts of eye-gaze and “eye-contact” refers to two people looking directly into each other’s eyes. Other forms of gaze include “omission”, defined as a failure to look at someone without intending to and “avoidance”, in which a person purposely prevents eye contact. Most are familiar with “staring”, but to be sure, we define it as a persistent look that occurs regardless of what another person is doing. Simply defining the types of gazes and eye contact likely evoke some pretty strong feelings which can be positive as in the case of mutual gaze or negative as in the stare. Prolonged eye contact early in a loosely established relationship is almost always taken negatively, or with hostility, and decoded by others as offensive. We may even think prolonged eye contact is a result of projected dislike or even disapproval of others, even when it is the result of affection or attraction. Holding gaze for as little as three seconds longer than normal can come across as over-assertiveness and create contempt. However, because we aren’t always aware of eye contact consciously, others won’t be able to describe the reason for their feelings which is why the use of gaze needs to be taken seriously.