, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 83-101

Functions of gaze in social interaction: Communication and monitoring

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Abstract

Hypotheses and assumptions on the intimacy regulating and the monitoring function of gaze were tested in three successive experiments. In a 2 (sex of the dyad) × 6 (order of the intimacy levels) × 3 (questions' intimacy level) factorial design 144 subjects were interviewed by a confederate who was either constantly looking into their eyes (experiment I), was constantly avoiding mutual gaze (experiment II) or showed varying looking behavior (experiment III). The data clearly revealed that the compensation hypothesis predicting an inverse relationship between gaze and topic intimacy has to be rejected. Intimacy regulation through gaze functions more via adaptation processes. Adaptation can also account for differences in gaze dependent upon the partner's looking behavior. The sequence hypothesis which predicted decreasing gaze with increasing predictability of the partner's behavior was confirmed.

It follows from these data that looking behavior has an internal structure with information receiving (regarding the partner's attentiveness and the ease of monitoring the interaction, monitoring function) more important in an encounter than information sending (communicative function); and—at least in the type of situation chosen—reactions towards situational conditions are primarily performed via adaptation processes.

This research was supported by a grant from the University of Bielefeld 86/2754.