Paul Ekman’s research into lying says that people often attribute shifty or darting eyes to liars, however, as a predictor of a lie it actually falls short. Looking away from complicated human faces helps us concentrate and so it doesn’t really tell us much more than that thought is taking place. Human lie detectors may suppose that no thought needs to take place when truth telling, so they eyes need not be diverted. In reality however, the eyes can wander due to a variety of reasons not the least of which are connected to the thought of being mistrusted, labeled a liar, or being punished.
Therefore the stress and nervousness of being put on the spot is enough to cause the eyes to exhibit patterns that seem dishonest. Experienced poker players, wishing to disguise a strong hand, can careful craft misleading “eye tells” fooling other players. For example, wincing at a card that is actually a good card, or using darting eyes when telling the truth, or best yet, producing cues at random, can really confuse opponents. The research also notes that pathological liars are particularly adept at maintaining eye contact even more so then people who are honest. Researchers have theorized that liars want to track the success of their lies and so by watching the face of their victims, they can gauge their effectiveness accordingly and adjust if necessary. Therefore, the real give-away to lying might, in fact be an increase in eye contact rather than a decrease in eye contact. However, as it turns out, even this clue is sometimes misleading as it can be adjusted accordingly as we saw in the poker example above.
Another reason we might see poor eye contact is as an indication of the desire to exit an undesirable situations. At social events or parties, this is especially the case. We might catch eyes moving about the room as the minds of guests wander for more stimulating interactions. So to gauge interest you can note where their eyes wander and how much eye contact they use. Our eyes go to where our minds already are, and of which our bodies want to be. We of course think it to be rude to just up and leave whilst speaking to a fellow guest, however by casting our gaze randomly or specifically to our object of interest we send the same message. While too much eye contact can also be rude and unnatural, so too is extended periods spent looking away, or looking all about the room in a distracted fashion. Eye patterns, therefore, need to be carefully constructed to send the message we intend.