We've all been told how important it is to make eye contact when interacting with other people. Direct eye contact makes you seem trustworthy, confident, and interested in the topic you are discussing, right? All those things are true BUT new research shows that direct eye contact can lessen the effectiveness of your message in one critical situation:
Frances Chen researched people listening and watching videos of other people talking about controversial social and/or political topics. Participants watched videos with speakers discussing topics with a strong viewpoint that was opposite to what the participants believed. Some participants were asked to watch the speaker's eyes, and others were asked to watch the speaker's mouth. Participants who watched the speaker's eyes were LESS likely to change their opinion on the topic than the participants who watched the speaker's mouth.
Why would this be true? Chen's hypothesis is that direct eye contact can be seen as threatening. What are the implications of this research?: If you are talking to people who agree with you, and trying to get them fired up to take action, then use direct eye contact. But If you are talking to people who don't agree with you, then you may want to minimize the amount of direct eye contact you have.
Here's the research citation:
Chen, F.S., Minson, J.A., Schöne, M., & Heinrichs, M. (in press). In the eye of the beholder: Eye contact increases resistance to persuasion. Psychological Science.