While talking to a person, making a little tilt of the head may help the other person know you better, paving the way for deeper social engagement, suggests new research.
While eye contact is considered crucial for social engagement, many people may find direct eye contact threatening. But a tilt of the head leads people to look more at the eyes, perhaps because it makes them more approachable and less threatening, said the study published in the journal Perception.
Using eye-tracking technology, the researchers found that people tend to look first at whichever eye is higher.
Understanding how facial recognition works has great value — perhaps particularly for those whose brains process information in ways that make eye contact challenging, including people with autism.
“Looking at the eyes allows you to gather much more information,” said lead researcher Nicolas Davidenko, Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of California, Santa Cruz.
“It’s a real advantage,” Davidenko added.
By contrast, the inability to make eye contact has causal effects.
“It impairs your facial processing abilities and puts you at a real social disadvantage,” he said.
People who are reluctant to make eye contact may also be misperceived as disinterested, distracted, or aloof, he noted.
So the new findings could help people with autism have deeper social engagements.
The findings may also be of value for people with amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” which can be disconcerting to others.
“In conversation, they may want to tilt their head so their dominant eye is up,” Davidenko said.
“That taps into our natural tendency to fix our gaze on that eye,” he added.