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Pupil dilation as an index of preferred mutual gaze duration

Binetti, Nicola; Harrison, Charlotte; Coutrot, Antoine; Johnston, Alan; Mareschal, Isabelle


Nicola Binetti

Charlotte Harrison

Antoine Coutrot

Isabelle Mareschal


Most animals look at each other to signal threat or interest. In humans, this social interaction is usually punctuated with brief periods of mutual eye contact. Deviations from this pattern of gazing behaviour generally make us feel uncomfortable and are a defining characteristic of clinical conditions such as autism or schizophrenia, yet it is unclear what constitutes normal eye contact. Here, we measured, across a wide range of ages, cultures and personality types, the period of direct gaze that feels comfortable and examined whether autonomic factors linked to arousal were indicative of people’s preferred amount of eye contact. Surprisingly, we find that preferred period of gaze duration is not dependent on fundamental characteristics such as gender, personality traits or attractiveness. However, we do find that subtle pupillary changes, indicative of physiological arousal, correlate with the amount of eye contact people find comfortable. Specifically, people preferring longer durations of eye contact display faster increases in pupil size when viewing another person than those preferring shorter durations. These results reveal that a person’s preferred duration of eye contact is signalled by physiological indices (pupil dilation) beyond volitional control that may play a modulatory role in gaze behaviour.


Binetti, N., Harrison, C., Coutrot, A., Johnston, A., & Mareschal, I. (2016). Pupil dilation as an index of preferred mutual gaze duration. Royal Society Open Science, 3(7),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 27, 2016
Publication Date Jul 6, 2016
Deposit Date Jul 6, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jul 6, 2016
Journal Royal Society Open Science
Electronic ISSN 2054-5703
Publisher The Royal Society
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Issue 7
Public URL
Publisher URL


2016 Johnston.pdf (672 Kb)

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