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human eye expressionsReading Eyes

Body Language of the Human Eye

guest author: Ariel Lehrer

Is it possible to read someone’s thoughts by gazing into their eyes? What body language cues can we gather just from observing eye movement?

If only you would have known that the funny little emoticons you were drawing when you were a kid would become the big business they are today. Certainly you would have cashed in. Nobody had to tell you that eyebrows angled down meant angry, angled up was sad, arched was surprised. You knew instinctively that eyes have a lot to say about what a person is thinking and feeling.

That’s because the ability to read a person’s intentions based on eye movement develops at about the age of four. But there’s a whole lot more to know about what the eyes have to say than what simple face images can tell.

Right Brained or Left?

The direction of a person’s gaze alone reveals a whole world of what is going on behind the forehead. Conjugate lateral eye movements, or CLEMS, are involuntary eye movements to the left or right and can indicate whether a person is engaged in symbolic or visual thinking. A 1999 study showed that people are predominantly left or right lookers and that 75% of their eye movements will be in one direction or the other. This is a good indication of whether you are dealing with a more analytical left brain person who will mostly look to the right or a creative right brain person who is probably looking to the left.

Lying Eyes

The story changes a little when you are not trying to assess the person’s thought patterns but posing a question directly to them. Blifaloo’s article “Eye Direction and Lying” discusses at greater length determining a person’s truthfulness based on the direction of their gaze. You can tell whether a person is constructing or remembering information by the direction in which they are looking. Meaning, if you ask them to describe an experience and they look up and to the left from your viewpoint, in the direction of visual construction, they are probably making it up rather than remembering. A gaze downward can also indicate guilt or shame because the person knows their statements to be false.

Be careful with these cues. They are indications but they are not foolproof. Dr. Bella DePaulo, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, reported in 1986 that people think that they are much better than they actually are at reading body language. Most people inaccurately believed that “shifty eyes” meant a person was lying. A person’s body language response when defending themselves against the accusation that they have lied is identical to the body language used during lying. Neuro linguistic programming experts (NLP) would caution that the rule of thumb is to use a minimum of four body language cues to make judgments about a person’s thoughts.

The Eyes Link to the Senses

The gaze of a person’s eyes can also tell you whether they are in a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic mode of thinking.

The visual mode means that the person is supporting their thoughts with images. The eyes will be looking either upward or forward and unfocused.

In the auditory mode, thoughts are described as sounds. At these times, the person will be looking to the sides, in the directions of their ears.

And kinesthetic thinking means that the person is describing feelings to you. The eyes will generally gaze downward. Coupling this knowledge with what you have already learned, you will now have to rely on several additional cues to decide whether this is guilt or deep introspection.

The Eyes in Flirting & Interpersonal Relationships

If a person is looking you directly in the eye, you would likely believe that they are more dominant than submissive. According to Dr. Robert Gifford reporting in 1991 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, most people mistakenly believed that a direct gaze meant that a person was dominant. It’s actually the reverse: the more submissive partner has to attend to the more dominant one and will be looking to the other person’s eyes to gauge reactions more often. Eye movement along with other body language is a better indicator, such as dominant people fiddle with objects less than submissive people.

Another downward eye movement is the momentary eye contact and then downward gaze that women unconsciously use while flirting. This gaze probably could also be categorized as submissive. But like the other eye movements already mentioned, Susan Rabin, communications consultant and author of “101 Ways to Flirt” advises that eye contact plus other body language are important for flirting. The eye contact used during flirting & other interpersonal exchanges can take many forms.

More Body Language & Related Features on

detecting liesHow to Detect Lies Learn the secrets to become a human lie detector.

 Eye Movement and Lying How to tell if someone is lying based on the movements of their eyes.

flirting body languageFlirting Body Language Learn how men and women use non-verbal communication in courtship.

This article from the BBC relationships web page describes how eye movement indicates the level of relationship a person has with someone and whether they have reached the level of flirting. They call it the flirting triangle. Eyes move from one side of a triangle across to the other and down to the point of the triangle. In a flirtatious situation it opens up much more broadly to include the entire body. Gazing at the mouth is considered quite sensual. A person who is interested in the other will probably blink faster and their pupils will dilate. Probably trying to get a better look. Unconsciously the other person will mimic the blinking.

Apparently when we see someone to whom we are attracted, our eyebrows rise and fall slightly. If the person feels likewise they usually unconsciously return the gesture. I think I remember a cartoon wolf from my childhood doing that with his eyebrows when he saw red riding hood. Or maybe I’m getting confused with Groucho Marx. Hard to tell the difference.

Check out our article about the Body Language of Flirting to learn more about eye contact and other flirting cues.

In a business relationship, the eye contact will remain at eye level with the bottom of the triangle being the bridge of the nose. Between friends, the bottom of the triangle will extend to the mouth.


With all this information, you should be able to read minds solely through eye contact…or at least draw much more effective emoticons than you ever thought possible.

Have your own tips or comments? Please feel to share them below.


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