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tenalpgnorw
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31 Jul 2009, 12:07 pm

For a lot of us on here, myself certainly included, eye contact among humans is a confusing and often unpleasant thing. I read lots of articles, including this one at a Police Training Site which states, "when two people are conversing about a topic of mutual interest the normal level of eye-to-eye contact is between 30 – 60% of the time. This is referred to as mutual gaze." YIKES!

Though humans are odd and perplexing, I find that dogs make a lot of sense. In the natural world, eye contact is about dominance. Generally, when two animals (or human and dog) make eye contact, the first one to look away is the submissive beast in the pecking order.

One of the simplest ways to establish dominance with a new pet dog is to hold his face firmly in your hands several inches from your face and stare into his eyes. A dominant dog will stare back for a few seconds to over a minute, depending on how strong willed they are. This is phase one. Then they will begin averting their gaze and struggling to get away. This is phase two. Then they will begin licking their tongue out repeatedly, the final sign of submission, while glancing at you for short periods of time.

In this process, you'll notice two distinct "types of look", the "commanding" and the "receiving". In other words there is always somebody telling others what to do and somebody looking to the leader to see what to do. In human terms, these might be called the "hard stare" and "anxious glance" respectively. These are completely natural and normal in the animal kingdom. Dogs aren't threatened or traumatized by being part of a "pecking order". Rather, they are comfortable and at ease when the hierarchy of the pack is clear and they have an established place therein.

The difficulty comes about in this so called "mutual gaze" among humans. I would guess that this odd "third" kind of eye contact is perplexing to most people in the spectrum. Subconsciously, our two main "eye signals", both which we give out and receive are among the first two "natural" forms of eye contact.

Thus we are often perceived as arrogant and domineering (and thus despised) or we are perceived as shy submissive sheep (and thus bullied, bossed around and despised). I'm really not sure exactly how to apply my observations for the benefit of WP folks. Mainly, I just like dogs.



tenalpgnorw
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31 Jul 2009, 12:15 pm

Two more interesting things:

1. Do you ever go on a walk in the neighborhood and pass a fence with a madly barking dog. If you keep walking they will keep barking until you are gone. If you stop and stare at them they will almost always stop barking for several seconds. This is all the time it takes to establish dominance or submission. In the former case, they will continue barking. In the latter, they will back off. The reason for they are upset in the first place is that they are confused as to the newcomer with the odd scent and want very much to know if the intruder is a greater or lesser, friend or foe.

2. I just played a fun game with Muffin, one of my border collies. We were standing across the room from one another. I would smile at her and she would wag her tail and stare back. This might be called a "receptive stare" or the "tell-me-what-to-do" look. Then I would give her a "mean look" and she would stop wagging her tail and duck her eyes away from me, the "backing down" look. I then went back to smiling and repeated the process about a dozen times, all with the same result.



Prof_Pretorius
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31 Jul 2009, 12:29 pm

This is quite true, don't ever stare in a mean way at monkeys in a zoo. Staring means you getting ready to attack, and they will get very angry in response.


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Apera
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31 Jul 2009, 2:45 pm

On that last thing, I think that part of the reason for that is the herding nature of border collies. It's their job to always be observing what's going on. I'm also pretty sure that my dog looks at me to thank me for playing with him to exhaustion.


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mitharatowen
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31 Jul 2009, 7:56 pm

I've always felt that eye contact was a sign of aggression. I am not sure why the rest of society does not appear to agree.



oppositedirection
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05 Aug 2009, 12:52 pm

I might try this with some of my human friends. Purely experimental of course, I mean I'm in no way domineering...



willmark
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05 Aug 2009, 1:44 pm

I wrote this in my blog, but I'll stick it here to add something else to your puzzlement.

Eye contact for me can be a source of calming stimulation. Aspies have told me that meeting other Aspies is nice because they don't have to worry about having to make eye contact. Making eye contact to me is a source of pleasure, and a form of communication. I feel people's vibe with my eyes. The stimulation of eye contact with a person that I love can calm me like a hug.



Wikan
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05 Aug 2009, 3:30 pm

I think of this all the time when in public. And it's fun to experiment with it, like having a "never back down"-day, though it's hard on public transportation.