The power of eye contact

Imagine staring at someone for five minutes without speaking. What would transpire.

In a bold social experiment the six part series Look Me In The Eye dares to examine just that. And there is neuroscience that proves that looking someone in the eye is both beneficial to your well being and your relationships. This science also has proved that direct eye contact can communicate far more than mere words, it has the power to heal and thus begin the reconciliation process. It’s this aspect of the series that its producers were most interested in.

Seasoned journalist and host of two series of First Contact — Ray Martin — is both host and sceptic of the groundbreaking series. Having witnessed the power of non-verbal communication on the show, Martin now freely admits he was wrong in his initial scepticism of the concept.

“So often social science – I’m generalising because there are always exceptions – but social science is a fairly vague, inaccurate science. Even to call it a science is questionable. So I’m not a huge fan of psychologists and I had my doubts about this, but was anxious to give it a go. I was wrong. It worked in every case,” Ray Martin told sbs.com.au in the lead up to the show being broadcast.

The social experiment brings together 17 pairs of people, one or both of whom are attempting to reconnect after a period of estrangement. The two participants sit facing each other for five minutes, not speaking but maintaining eye contact for the entire time.

Once the five minutes have elapsed, the pair are given time by themselves in separate rooms. There, they decide if they want to continue to reconnect or if their eye-to-eye meeting has sufficiently addressed their needs.

One of the most unique and confronting reconnections in the series is undoubtably the meeting of former child soldier Ayik, who has reached out to the man who was once his teenaged prison guard in Sudan.

“Everybody who appeared in the program as we were recording over two-and-a-half weeks said to me afterward that they had seen something when they said nothing and just looked each other in the eye. They’d seen love or anger or hate in a couple of occasions, but also sorrow, and they saw memories of what they had done together,” Martin has said of the series.

This intense experience is often, but not always followed up with the people deciding what to do about their broken relationships and forgiveness becomes part of the redemption process.

“People were clearly not out there to go on television; they were out there because this was almost the last desperate act. They had tried other things that hadn’t worked, so to go on television and voice really raw emotions was brave. It’s a box of Kleenex sort of series.” says Martin of the power the show has on audiences.

Emotional and raw the groundbreaking series proves that reconciliation and forgiveness connect us on a level that begins the healing process.

This is powerfully recommended television.

Adrian Drayton

Look Me In The Eye is on SBS Wednesdays at 8.30pm and on SBS On Demand




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