woman wearing reading glasses woman wearing reading glasses Our brain is very busy when we first meet someone. (Photo: oneinchpunch/Shutterstock)

My eyes are up here: How eye contact determines who you date

A new study takes a closer look at where our eyes wander when we're meeting new people.

Is it love at first sight, fast friendship or two ships passing in the night?

We don't always know what kind of relationship we're going to have with someone when we meet them for the first time.

But guess what? Our eyes do.

That's the conclusion of a new study by researchers from Wellesley College and the University of Kansas, who say that our eyes are a huge determining factor in potential friendships. How we size up new people – specifically, where our eyes go when we first meet them – can predict whether we're going to date them or just be friends. For example, did you know that if someone is looking at your feet, they’re interested in just a friendship and not a romance?

And, before we go any further, a fair warning: we see where you're looking, gentlemen, and we're not fooled.

The study was led by Omri Gillath, an Israel-born professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas who received multiple degrees from the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University, both in Israel. Co-authors are Hayley A. Burghart, a graduate student at KU, and Angela Bahns, an assistant professor at Wellesley. Their research was published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

In the study, the eye movements of 105 men and women were tracked as they viewed photos of strangers while answering questions about their interest in either befriending or dating that person. The researchers found that the subjects looked at the head or chest of an opposite-sex person longer and more often when evaluating dating potential, compared with possible friendship. But when asked if they'd like to be friends, both men and women tended to focus more on legs or feet.

"Research on attraction tends to assume there is a fixed set of characteristics that makes a person desirable," Bahns said. "This new study shows that what people look for in a prospective relationship partner depends on their relational goals. The same person who makes a highly desirable friend may not make a good mate."

It's hard to stay with someone when there are so many great-looking options around.Our eyes tell all. (Photo: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock)

In addition to relationship goals, the scientists also noticed how gender determined people's behavior. Men, they said, looked more often at women's chests and hips regardless of whether they were judging friendship or romance. And when they did look at women's heads, they expressed a platonic interest, rather than a romantic one.

Conclusion? It's all about context, not appearance. We scan new people for information that's relevant to our own goals. And if we're lucky, we get a new friend in the process.

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