Reading Eyes in Body Language

How to Read Someone's Eyes

With body language, reading someone's eyes involves noticing where they gaze and also how their eyes move in their sockets (called Eye Access Cueing).
How to read eyes
Your first judgement about a person will often occur during initial eye contact, and, until you are in eye contact with someone, you are not communicating effectively. It's difficult to put a finger on why it happens, but some people make us feel at ease, while others make us feel uncomfortable. Clues to a person's trustworthiness, friendliness and dominance are all partially conveyed through microgestures of the eyes, and you have already developed the instincts to read them.

Other traits are conveyed not so much through the eyes but more through how a person uses their eyes. For example, a person who is nervous or has something to fear is less likely to look you straight in the eye. (There's more on that coming up. Please don't take it too literally.) Someone who has something to hide will generally only look at you for a third of the time during your conversation. On the other hand, someone who holds your gaze for more than two-thirds of the time could either like you (or be interested in what you're saying) or dislike you (or be uninterested). With the latter, the gaze-holding is a non-verbal challenge. As ever, context is key, and a person's tendency to stare or to avoid eye contact must be thrown into the mix for interpretation alongside the other cues.

Types of Gaze

types of gaze in body language
The type of gaze is also important. There are three main types of gaze:

The Business Gaze. Gazing into a person's eyes and then their forehead is known as the business gaze. In a meeting that has no other interactions going on other than business, most people will be gazing at each other in this way. It is useful to know this, because it might be possible to maintain a business-like bearing if someone starts gazing at you in an inappropriate way. In other words, flicking your gaze to deflect someone's amorous intentions by looking at their forehead in between eye contacts might be a way of saying "I'm just here to seal the deal".

The Social Friend's Gaze. Gazing into a person's eyes and then their chin is known as the friend's gaze. This might be useful to spot when a meeting is moving from a business footing to social one. Throughout my Army career, I learned that you could sometimes get more done with beer and a chat than you could with a hundred staff papers. If you think you're in that situation, you might want to start thinking about flicking your gaze at your target's chin in between eye contacts.

The Intimate Gaze. Gazing into a person's eyes and then at the chest and lower is known as the intimate gaze. You will notice this gaze when a person is interested in you sexually. (People who are expressing sexual interest also flick between eyes and lips, but this site isn't about that.) (Be aware that these are Western gazes. Other cultures have their own. The Japanese, for example, will gaze at your neck rather than your face because they prefer to avoid eye contact. With that as the backdrop, it's quite important you don't mistake Japanese neck-gazing as a European intimate gaze.)

Eye Access Cueing

eye access cueing in body language
Eye access cueing is done by watching how a person's eyes move in their sockets. When someone tries to recall information from the past or to think about the future, their eyes will move in a particular way. (For example, both of their eyes might move to the top left in their sockets.) Whilst you cannot tell whether someone is lying from these eye movements, you are able to tell whether the person is recalling information or constructing information (i.e., imagining something). For most people, it works like this:

Eyes Go Top Left. Recalling information, e.g. a childhood memory.
(Try it on yourself: What was the colour of your childhood bedroom?)

Eyes Go Top Right. Constructing a mental picture.
(Try it on yourself: What would you do if you won the lottery?)

Eyes Go Middle Left. Recalling a sound.
(Try it on yourself: Can you remember the sound of a dropped glass shattering?)

Eyes Go Middle Right. Imagining what a sound might be.
(Try it on yourself: Imagine the sound of stepping on a squeaky dog toy.)

Eyes Go Down Right. Accessing an emotion.
(Try it on yourself: Where's your first pet now?)

Eyes Go Down Left. Talking to yourself.
(Try it on yourself: So, how are you today?)

These eye movements are quite easy to spot. Unfortunately though, they're difficult to interpret. If a person is telling you a lie, they could be remembering what they've said previously (eyes generally go top left), or they could be constructing the lie (eyes generally go top right), or a bit of both. If they're telling you the truth, they will recall the truth (eyes top left) or might be deciding how it affects them (eyes top right), or a bit of both. And there will probably be some emotion accessing (eyes bottom right) thrown in the mix too. On its own, an eye movement is inconclusive, but it ought to be added to the equation along with the other tells.

See Also

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