Look Me in the Eye: Manipulated Eye Gaze Affects Dominance Mindsets

Abstract

Research across animal species suggests that eye gaze plays an important role in dominance/submission interactions. In a confrontation, maintenance of eye contact may indicate a struggle for dominance whereas gaze aversion suggests a withdrawal from conflict. Past research has focused on measuring eye gaze patterns in various contexts. The current experiment directly manipulated eye gaze patterns toward versus away from the eyes of angry or non-emotional faces to study the impact on dominance-related self-perceptions and decisions on the ultimatum game. Maintaining eye contact led men to make more dominant choices on the ultimatum game. Maintaining eye contact with angry faces in particular caused an increase in self-perceptions of aggression, and self-perceptions of aggression predicted more dominant responses on the ultimatum game. Women also reported an increase in self-perceptions of aggression after maintaining eye contact with angry faces, but they did not behave in a more dominant fashion on the ultimatum game after maintaining direct eye contact with faces. These results suggest that eye gaze behavior can exert a causal influence on dominance-related responding.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We included other questionnaires to ensure that participants would not be able to guess the purpose of the study. These included the behavioral inhibition and behavioral activation scales (BIS/BAS; Carver and White 1994), the trait self-control scale (Tangney et al. 2004), and the social dominance orientation scale (SDO; Pratto et al. 1994). We did not have a priori predictions about these traits and found no serendipitous effects with them.

  2. 2.

    Participants rated angry faces as more mean than neutral faces (M angry = 3.62, SD angry = .84 vs. M neutral = 2.30, SD neutral = .79), t (174) = 10.56, p < .001, d = 1.62, more threatening (M angry = 3.64, SD angry = .90 vs. M neutral = 2.36, SD neutral = .82), t (174) = 9.77, p < .001, d = 1.49, and more dominant (M angry = 3.48, SD angry = .93 vs. Mneutral = 2.73, SDneutral = .83), t (174) = 5.59, p < .001, d = .85. Neutral faces were rated as more attractive than the angry faces (M neutral = 2.24, SD neutral = .90 vs. M angry = 1.65, SD angry = .71) t (174) = 4.85, p < .001, d = .73, and more caring (M neutral = 2.82, SD neutral = .94 vs. Mangry = 2.03, SDangry = .74) t (174) = 6.21, p < .001, d = .93.

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Tang, D., Schmeichel, B.J. Look Me in the Eye: Manipulated Eye Gaze Affects Dominance Mindsets. J Nonverbal Behav 39, 181–194 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-015-0206-8

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Keywords

  • Eye gaze
  • Dominance
  • Submission
  • Ultimatum game
  • Aggression