I tried the eye contact experiment with my family—here's what happened
In October, the world’s largest eye contact experiment took place. Over 115,000 people in more than 140 cities took 60 seconds of their time to make direct eye contact with strangers. The experiment was formed to help strengthen the “human connection.”
I find myself struggling to make eye contact with even the closest of family and friends, and so I decided to try the experiment on those I love the most—my husband, daughters, and even my pets.
My experiment began with my eight-year-old dog. Before having children, he meant the world to me. I’d sulk at work, worrying about him being home alone. I’d take him for long, meandering walks. We would play at the park for hours. So, while he no longer is the one and only apple of my eye, he’s still my right-hand man.
I sat down on the floor and faced Willie. I asked him to sit and surprisingly he listened. I explained the eye contact experiment with him (my children were watching and already thought I was losing my mind) and set a 60-second alarm.
After a few seconds, Willie began wagging his tail. He stood up staunchly, wondering what I had planned. He went back and forth then– sitting, standing, and back again. He maintained eye contact remarkably, for a dog. 30 seconds. He began to panic. It started as a quiet whimper. He stretched, butt in the air, then began walking around me. He nudged me playfully with his snout. His whimper turned into his full-blown Chewbacca impression and I pondered the noise. Not long after the 60 seconds was up and Willie embraced my hug and gave me an ear-kiss, his way of telling me he loves me.
Next up was my 4-year-old daughter. It was a beautiful autumn day, so we decided to take our business outside. I gave her the quick rundown and asked her to not talk until the beeper went off. “Just look into my eyes, kiddo.” We began.
Seconds ticked by. “This is fun.”
“Did the beeper go off yet?”
I shook my head and smiled. She has seriously beautiful eyes, I thought. I realized how grown up she was looking already. It’s incredible how much the sweet little baby that graced me with so many sleepless nights was now this child.
She went back and forth between silly faces and seriousness, smiles and forced funny frowns. She began waving her arms furiously in the air, undoubtedly thinking I’d be able to figure out what she was trying to say with her body language. But before long, the beeper went off.
I asked her if it made her uncomfortable. “Yes. It made me uncomfortable because it did.” Was it hard? “Yes, because my head keeped bouncing all around?” Was it hard to not talk? “Yes. I was trying to say if you saw any rainbow fairies in the trees. That’s why I was trying to talk with my hands.”
Next was her little sister. Just two years old, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My youngest daughter is quite the opposite of her outgoing sister, and I expected that to show in this experiment.
Her immediate reaction was a frown. I absolutely love her frowny face, I thought. She then smiled and said, “mama!” She giggled, threw her head back, and repeated that process about ten times. She then happily threw her entire body on the ground and began rolling around. She grabbed my phone right when the timer went off.
I asked her a few questions too. What did you think about when you looked in my eyes? “Ummm….mama.” Was it hard to sit still? “Yeah.” Was it hard to not talk? “Noooooooooooooooo.”
Next up was my husband. I explained the experiment with him and figured he’d be a goofball for a solid minute, but it turns out that I was the goon instead. I tried to wait until the timing was right so the kids wouldn’t be a total distraction. We waited until they were snuggled up on the couch watching Frosty the Snowman. Perfect.
Immediately, I was overcome with the gigglefits. My eyes began watering. I forgot that we weren’t supposed to talk. “You don’t even have to try to make me laugh!” I seriously couldn’t stop laughing. I was also realizing that it’s been a very long time since we had looked at each other for that length of time. Our 4-year-old began choking on her broccoli. Behind me, the cat was sneaking, ready to pounce on me. Finally, what felt like forever, the timer went off. My husband thought the opposite. “Wow, time is up already?”
He gave me his thoughts. “I couldn’t stop staring at that freckle,” he said, as he poked my cheek. “I really couldn’t believe that was an entire minute.”
Last but not least was the cat. He jumped up on my lap and curled up in the blanket, purring. I set the timer and attempted to make eye contact with the little dude. I gently pulled his face up to look at me and he tenderly closed his eyes. What a sweet kitty. He spent the entirety of his 60 seconds with his eyes closed, purring and happy to be sitting in my lap.
Sixty seconds. It seems like such a short amount of time, doesn’t it? And yet, when we make eye contact, those seconds can feel like minutes. Especially to those of us who are uncomfortable with having another human being stare at us for any length of time.
I felt most comfortable with the one I made the most uncomfortable, my dog. His deep brown eyes made me feel at peace and content, but all it did for him was channel his inner Wookie.
I loved the one-on-one with my children. I loved seeing their personalities shine through in just one single minute of time. It was wonderful to just sit and be with them for 60 seconds. I’m with them all day every day, but these two minutes really were different. Slow. Beautiful.
And my cat? Well, I’ll always win a staring contest with him.
[Image via Pixar]