What social cues can be detected from your eye movements?

17 June 2021

Author: Kate Green

eye movements social cues

The meaning behind looking in certain directions


Everyone says that the eyes are the window to the soul… but how true is that? Is it possible for people to know what you’re thinking based on your eye movements, in the same way that body language can provide indications of your thoughts and feelings?


Well, it’s believed that the direction in which you look can actually suggest particular thought processes in a person, including how engaged they are, whether they’re telling the truth, and how they feel about their conversational partner.


Looking to the left:

Glancing to the left suggests that you are remembering facts or having visual thoughts. This is often a good way to check whether someone is telling you the truth. It can also mean that someone is having a conversation with themself internally or is rehearsing their next line.


Looking to the right:

Typically, looking to the right signifies lying. This is because we tend to look to the right when we are imagining things, but towards the left when we are remembering. However, it is also thought that looking to the right and downwards suggests self-doubt, while looking to the right and up indicates that a person is telling untruths.


Looking up:

Glancing upwards often suggests that a person is bored. It may mean that they are looking at their surroundings to find something that stimulates them more than the conversation they are currently having.


Looking down:

If a person looks down when speaking to someone they view as more powerful, it could be a sign of submission or shyness. It can also indicate that they are nervous or hesitant about taking part in the conversation and are avoiding eye contact because of it.


Why is eye contact important?


Eye contact is an amazing way to connect with those around us. Sharing a joke with a friend, attracting someone’s attention from across the room, or showing that you’re listening to a serious conversation all rely on you making and holding eye contact with another person. We need to share eye contact with someone around 60-70% of the time in order to build good rapport with them. This is essential for forging and maintaining personal relationships with your loved ones, and also for building business partnerships.


We usually favour – subconsciously or not – people who make more eye contact with us, over those whose gaze seems tricky to catch. Further to this, studies have shown that people who make more eye contact with those around them are viewed as:

  • Intelligent
  • Persuasive
  • Informed
  • Truthful
  • Sincere
  • Credible
  • Extroverted
  • Agreeable
  • Open


Conversely, people who make eye contact significantly more than 70% of the time are sometimes seen to make their conversational partners feel somewhat uncomfortable. Looking at someone else for this long can also come across as threatening, resulting in damaging social connections, rather than building rapport.


Eye contact is also important to ascertain whether a person is telling the truth or not. Although we previously touched on liars often looking to the right, another tell-tale sign of someone lying is that they will make little to no eye contact. This could be because they feel guilty and want to reduce that personal connection. However – completely unhelpfully if you’re trying to weed out the liars in your life – the opposite can also be true. It’s commonly known that liars often look away from you when speaking, so some people try to overcompensate for that when they’re telling untruths and will actually make too much eye contact. You often will have to rely on their delivery and overall shiftiness to help you make a decision about whether to trust them!

Back to Blog