Cutting-Edge Leadership

The best in current leadership research and theory, from cultivating charisma to transforming your organization

Is Your Gaze Loving or Lustful?

We're learning more about how our eyes reveal our true motives.

The common stereotype is that lovers gaze into each other’s eyes, while those in lust check out each other's bodies. But is there any truth to that? And what other secrets can we learn from studying our eyes?

A new study published in Psychological Science had college students look at photos of same-age models from fashion magazines and then decide if the model elicited feelings of lust or love. The students’ gazes were also tracked electronically. And consistent with the stereotypes, feelings of lust led to more eye fixation on the body, while feelings of love led to more gazing more at models' faces. Importantly, there were no significant gender differences in the results—both men and women looked more at the face when feeling love, and more at the body when feeling lust.

[See: Love is in the gaze: An eye-tracking study of love and sexual desire. Psychological Science. (Bolmont, M., Cacioppo, J.T., & Cacioppo, S. 2014).]

These results are interesting because they further confirm the well-known finding that mutual gaze—staring into each other's eyes—is a reliable indicator that people are in love. It seems that feelings of love do lead to a focus on the face, perhaps because we're seeking feedback about the other person's feelings. But when it comes to lust, we are more focused on "letting our bodies do the talking." 

There are other messages in our eyes: Research has shown, for example, that women are rated as more attractive if their pupils are dilated. In one such study, photographs of an attractive woman were enlarged, and men rated the woman as more sexually attractive if her pupils were larger. In fact, in ancient times, women were known to use poisonous belladonna to dilate their pupils and make themselves appear more attractive.

Learn more about the secret powers of our eyes and eye contact in this earlier post.


Follow me on Twitter:!/ronriggio

Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.


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