How can eye contact create that kind of intimacy? A Japanese study published in the journal Neuroimage provides a clue be looking inside the brain during a staring contest. It seems that eye contact actually synchronises brain activity between two people.
The researchers (who, it should be noted, were examining what’s going on in the brain during normal face-to-face eye contact—the kind you grant your manager when she’s talking to you, and less the deep getting-lost-in-your-partner’s-eyes) paired up 96 strangers and had them maintain eye contact under various conditions while MRIs examined their brain activity.
They found that people synchronised their blinking and fired up their right inferior front gyrus once they’d established eye contact. The findings suggest that mutual eye contact binds two people into a “singular connected system,” the authors write.
“Based on the enhancement of behavioural and neural synchronisation during mutual gaze, we now know that shared attention is hard to establish without eye contact,” Norihiro Sadato, senior study author, told Psych Central. In other words, when you and your partner share a loving look, you don’t just feel more in sync—your brains are literally syncing up their firing. Sweet!