A Non-Creepy Reason to Make Eye Contact With Strangers

Nobody likes getting the cold shoulder from someone they care about. But according to a new study, even being ignored by a stranger can make you feel slightly crappier about life.

ScienceDaily reports that researchers had volunteers walk around campus at Purdue University, interacting with passersby. Or not interacting. Sometimes they'd make eye contact with their subjects, sometimes they'd make eye contact and smile, and sometimes they'd just gaze at a point past the subject's ear, "looking at them as if they were air." Then another researcher followed up with each subject immediately afterwards, asking, "Within the last minute, how disconnected do you feel from others?" The ones who got eye contact felt less disconnected than those who got the air-stare.

Given that we probably push past a lot of people every day without making eye contact, the fact that this affects us at all is kind of striking. Says study author Eric D. Wesselmann, "These are people that you don't know, just walking by you, but them looking at you or giving you the air gaze — looking through you — seemed to have at least momentary effect." I'd like to see the study repeated in a crowded city environment — while making eye contact with passersby on your college campus might give you a warm feeling of connection, making eye contact with every single goddamn person you pass on the subway stairs might just drive you insane. On the other hand, maybe this is part of the price urbanites pay for living in cities — the feeling that other people are just competition for space, rather than actual human beings we can feel connected to. I'll admit that when I go someplace smaller, it's nice to have strangers nod and smile at me — after I get over the initial shock. And maybe acknowledging people as you pass by is a way of doing a small good deed. Don't get carried away, though — there's a fine line between pleasant human connection and creepy.

Being Ignored Hurts, Even by a Stranger [ScienceDaily]

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