I was recently reading in one of my favorite magazines (American Scientific Mind) an interesting little article on why people are so much more apt to be mean to each other online. For a long time they thought it was the anonymity, but turns out it’s directly linked to a lack of eye contact with the recipient.
They conducted a study where people communicated with each other online in multiple contexts. Sometimes they were able to see a side view of each other through cameras, sometimes they were instructed to share intimate personal details, and other times they looked directly in each other’s eyes through webcams.
Those in the first two categories were 50% more likely to be antagonistic and ‘mean’ than those in the third category. That is, regardless of whether or not people could see a side view or know the other person’s name, age, occupation, etc… they were STILL more likely to be mean than if they were looking directly in the other person’s eyes. The conclusion? We’re more gentle with other people when we get immediate feedback on the effect we’re having on them, and eyes give away our emotional state.
How often are you looking into the eyes of other people as you talk to them or even pass them on the street? The most effective way of developing compassion is to truly understand another human being. We often say this is the most powerful aspect of personality psychology. However, if you want to get started in a simple actionable way, start being aware and focusing on other people’s eyes. Make eye contact even if it’s uncomfortable. Eyes are gateways to the soul, and watching the responses people have to every day events and encounters will tell you novels about them. Information easily becomes understanding, and understanding leads to compassion.
For more information, I recommend reading “The Power of Eye Contact” by Michael Ellsberg. Good stuff.