Have you noticed that people are often meaner online than in real life? Many have blamed this on anonymity and invisibility, because when you are online no one knows who you are or what you look like. However, new research suggests that we may have a tendency to be nasty on the Internet because we do not make eye contact with those with whom we are communicating.
For example, a recent study demonstrated this point by having their subjects look into their partner’s eyes and predict how mean they were. When their eyes were hidden, participants were twice as likely to be hostile. Even if the subjects were both unrecognizable (with only their eyes on the screen) and anonymous, they rarely made threats if they maintained eye contact.
It seems that seeing a person’s eyes helps you understand the signals the person is trying to send, which often fosters empathy and, therefore, more effective communications.
So perhaps the key to diffusing mean behavior—at least in the offline world—is to simply make eye contact with people. Try it.
I spent a lot of time teaching 6 & 7 year olds to make eye contact when I was still teaching. This was something foreign to many of them. I dismissed some of it as a developmental issue, but I taught my own children to make eye contact from an early age. It is a social skill lacking in many children and adults.