Do contrasting SOI types and sexes differ in their perceptions of eye contact as flirtatious behaviour? And does exhibiting eye contact effect attractiveness?
Cardiff Metropolitan University
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Background Eye contact is argued to be a predominant form of nonverbal communication, serving many functions (Kleinke, 1986) including expressing emotions (Knapp and Hall, 2010) and communicating intimacy (Kleinke, 1986). Evidence suggests that eye gaze is a signal of affection (Rubin, 1970) and can improve people’s perceptions of others who are not in a romantic relationship (Burgoon et al, 1985). Much of this research has led many to believe that eye contact may function as a powerful tool for flirtating and signalling attraction in order to initiate mating behaviour (healthguidance.org, 2011). These assumptions are supported by studies such as Conway et al (2008) and Mason et al (2005). Aims The purpose of this study was to examine whether differences in sex and sociosexual orientation (SOI type) (Simpson and Gangestad, 1991) would lead to different levels of interpretation of eye contact as a flirtatious behaviour, and the level of which eye gaze effected the attractiveness of the communicator. This study also sought to investigate whether sexes differed in the amount of time they engaged in eye gaze and the number of times they established eye contact. Method A preliminary study required participants to rate the attractiveness of an opposite sex target model in order to be compared with ratings from the primary study. By using a between subjects experimental design, participants in the primary study engaged with a two minute simulated face to face conversation with a Target Model of the opposite sex displaying high levels of eye gaze (the Moving Image condition), while fitted with an eye tracker. Participants completed an SOI-R (Penke and Asendorpf, 2008) in order for them to be categorised as restricted or unrestricted SOI types, then once they had engaged with the simulated conversation, they rated the perceived flirtatiousness, their conscious level of attraction to, and give an attractiveness rating of the Target Model. Results It was revealed that there were no significant differences between the sexes or SOI types, or interaction of Sex and SOI on the scores for Perceived Flirtatiousness of the Target Model (p>0.05), Conscious Level of Attraction to the Target Model during the Interaction (p>0.05), and Attractiveness Rating of the Target Model (p>0.05) in the primary study. Neither were there any differences between the sexes in the Percentage of Time engaged in Mutual gaze (p>0.05) or the Number of Times Eye Contact was established (p>0.05). A significant difference was found between Attractiveness Rating scores from males and females in the preliminary study; with males rating the opposite sex target model higher than females (p<0.05). Female participants in the primary study (Moving Image condition) also rated the male target model significantly higher than females in the preliminary study (Static Image condition) (p<0.05). Conclusion The results of this study suggest that sexes and SOI types do not differ in the level of which they perceive eye gaze to be a flirtatious behaviour, nor do they differ in the effect eye gaze has on their conscious level of attraction to, or their attractiveness rating of a member of the opposite sex. Furthermore, sexes do not differ in the amount of time spent engaged in mutual gaze, neither do they differ in the number of times they establish eye contact. Results, however, do suggest that male attractiveness is enhanced by exhibiting high levels of eye gaze. The study was not without its limitations. Points of criticism and methodological faults outlining distinct recommendations for future studies are discussed.
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