22. mai, 2017

Regard et interculturarité (débat sur www.researchgate.net)

 

 

 

IS MAKING EYE CONTACT VERY IMPORTANT IN YOUR CULTURE TO IMPROVE HUMAN RELATIONS ?  
What about a scale with different degrees of eye contact ? Is it polite to gaze, or to stare? Which cultures prefer to avoid eye contact ?
 

ALAIN  ROBERT COULON ASKED : Is making eye contact very important in your culture to improve human relations?. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/post/Is_making_eye_contact_very_important_in_your_culture_to_improve_human_relations [accessed May 22, 2017].

 

All Answers (26)

 

Nomathemba Nonkelela · Walter Sisulu University

It often depends on what type of communication the people are involved in.  For example, if there is age difference between the people communicating the younger one is not expected to stare at the older one.  It is regarded as impolite and arrogant.  This is the case in most rural communities of South Africa.  However if the younger person is trying to prove his/her innocence it becomes necessary to look at the older one who will 'study' the eyes for such innocence.  How accurate this is is debatable but it is a common situation among rural people. 

 
 
  •  
    This is an interesting question and it would be easy enough to construct and psychometrically test such a test. The most important questions that need to be answered before designing this instrument is what range would you have respondents respond - level of: satisfaction, involvement, personal behaviour, social behaviour, etc., and why are you designing the questionnaire? What do you want to demonstrate? This is also related to who is your sample and why?
     

 

  •  
    Thanks for your answers. Having lived twenty one years in Asia (nineteen in Japan, and two in mainland China) , I have the feeling, and the experience, that contemporary Western culture may overemphasize eye contact (and sight in general, more than hearing ).
    I recently read an article by Kate Murphy in the International New York Times (May 17,18) in which it is said that the Japanese are an exception, but I believe there are many more, in Asia and other places.
    It would be very interesting to have researchers, from various countries and cultural areas, expressing here their opinion.

    The problem is complex because it can depend of age, gender as you said, and other factors (situation, circumstances)

    Kate Murphy explains that eye contact is very important in the relation between mothers and children.
    The Indian yoga teacher B.K.S.Iyengar says that, according to his teaching experience, Indian children can be strongly directed and influenced by eye contact. In teaching, this may be universal.
    For lack of direct experience I do not know if this is less so in Japan or China.

    I heard that advice is given to the American military not to make direct eye contact in Korea because this is considered being aggressive.
    It seems to me that many Westerners are unable to communicate by what I shall call, by lack of other words, "psychic waves", and that men may be even more unable to do it than women.
     
  •  
    Interesting question. In Nepalese Culture, as far as i know juniors are expected to look down while talking with seniors.
     
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    I remember reading something recently in National Geographic that women in general keep eye contact for longer than men and fix their gaze at different parts of the face Generally people don't stare straight into the other person's eyes but move from one eye to another and then to the lips and back to the first eye. I think the answer will also depend on how far away two people are (across the table or across the room?) and in what environment they grew up. Usually people from rural areas keep further away from other's than city dwellers etc. I'd say eye contact certainly is important. We avoid eye contact when we feel guilty afraid or shy or when we lie. Controlling this can be beneficial but also dangerous.
     
  •  
    Cross-cultural psychology has been investigating these cultural differences for some time. For an overview and intro, you could look at the following:
    http://bern.library.nenu.edu.cn/upload/soft/TheSelf.pdf
    and
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hofstede%27s_cultural_dimensions_theory

 

 

  • Thanks to all contributors.
    I think that more researches are to be done in the field of ethnopsychology and ethnopsychiatry.
    E.T. Hall's book' "The Hidden Dimension" is, according to me, a source book.

    It would be too long to dwell on it here : I believe very small and subtle, but very important signals, sent by the body, are essential for human relations, and communication, besides speech.
    Usually this is not consciously perceived, nor much discussed.

    The consequences of those misunderstandings can be dramatic.
    This is even truer when the cultures are very far apart.
    Of course, these are extreme cases, which may have been worsened by other factors, but I am almost sure the mass murder tragedy last Friday, at Isla Vista, Calif, can be explained by problems linked to "hidden dimensions". The culprit has a Chinese mother separated from her American husband.
    Another case is a mass murder, on a larger scale, by a Korean, which happened on an American campus in the state of Virginia, on April 2007.

    I want also to emphasize that, much more than mere readings, direct experiences done by the researcher are necessary to understand the topic. Ethnology is an experimental science. It is very difficult to grasp the true extent of the question iwithout living abroad, deeply immersed in a very different culture and environment, much longer than the usual "two years scholarship", not to speak of a two weeks, or two months field trip.
 
 
Dear Alain Robert coulon, your question is very fascinating and at the same time complicated. Fascinating in the sense that I am very much interested with the concept of eye contact, stares and glances. It is complicated because it is a very broad topic. It will require your study of various cultures if you do not narrow it down to a particular continent or racial group if you prefer.
I give an instance from my personal experience. The culture I come from regard eye contact especially with an an elderly person as a sort of disrespect or challenge. Then i arrived in Europe and discovered that eye contact is regarded as a mark o equality, agreement and giving one an undivided attention while an avoidance of eye contact is seen as a mark of cowardice,lack of attention or an attempt to conceal something. So, I always feel embarrassed when discussing with Europeans since I always have to make deliberate effort to look at the speaker straight in the eyes.
However, there are different forms of eye contact, some people stare at you to a point of impoliteness, perhaps this is an aspect you intend to explore in your research.
 
  •  
    Dear Molly Chiluwa,

    Thanks for your answer.
    For my study, may I ask you the country and culture you come from, because I cannot see it on your page ?

    I note that, like the researcher from Nepal, you say that eye contact is not polite in relations from a junior to a senior.
    In contemporary Western culture, this is not always the case, to say the least.
    However, in the old traditional pattern of culture, things were more like in your own countries.
    The tendency has been moving toward the opposite direction.

    A very big problem, is that not to make eye contact, generally speaking, is seen as being sly, or even telling lies , in Western cultures. One of the contributors said it here.
    This is not at all the case in Japan, and in many Asian countries, and also in other cultures.

    Finally, a very delicate, but to me, very important question, is that, at a psychological level, people in one culture can be very uncomfortable, only to deal with people in another one, or even to be close to them, to live together.
    And past historical conflicts, or economics factors, or political factors are not enough to explain it. Sometimes, a problem of comparative psychology is ignored, or wrongly seen as another kind of problem.

    For example life energy, the life force, vitality, "normal existence" are expressed in the contemporary West by much speech, much eye contact, huge activity. And, not to speak much, not to make eye contact, a more passive behaviour, are seen as a defect in human relations - or a "lack" of "relation". Or it is even seen as an inferiority, sometimes a kind of disease.
    But what is seen as "natural" in the frame of a culture is considered not so at all, in a very far one, on the other side, or other face of the world. .
    After living a very long time in Asia, I have been able to understand to some extent both ways.
    I try to live "in the middle", or to adapt to any circumstances. Hence, cultures in the middle, like the Slavic one, the North Europe one, the Nepalese one, the North China one, and others, are more comfortable to me.

    However, by the way, to respect silence, to "listen to" silence in human relations, not to make too many gestures, not to be too outwardly active, too dynamic (on the borderline of aggressive behavior), to be somewhat stiff and a little rigid, all that was, (and still is) the norm of well educated persons in the West also, in a not so distant past.
    But it seems that the direction taken by the "modern world" has been the opposite, as a tendency. I believe this topic has to be addressed for global understanding on our little and fragile planet
     
     
  •  
    Dear Francesca Cansani,

    I agree that "well educated" is a clumsy and ambiguous expression, from an ethnological viewpoint.

    Let us take it from this angle : Shyness. Even dangerous and ferocious animals, like snakes, tigers, are shy.
    They flee when they hear noises, and very often they don't do harm, if they are not frightened, provoked, or attacked.

    Also, respect of others, of Nature, and of oneself.
    Awe in front of what is existing around us, above us, and in us.

    In that sense, the primitive, the savage can be more educated than the educated, or half educated. Not always of course.
    Many children, teenagers, women and enlightened persons are somewhat shy, by the way.
    It is a long story, many pages would be needed here.
    I am very interested by the power, and the value of shyness, passivity, and interiorization. And innocence.

    What I wanted to mean, also, in that there exists a deep respect in Asian societies for education, study, correctness, ethics.
    This could bridle to some extent invention, or imagination, but less and less now, and in the future.

    Let us continue exchanging ideas. Do you know this very inspiring book : "A vision of dynamic space" by Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) ?
    Laban was a dancer, choreographer, scientist, philosopher and mystic at the same time, with a large international experience (in Europe).
    I read and read again three important pages he wrote about "the sixth sense" which is, according to him, the sense of "Movement", basis of all the others.
     
     
  •  

    Francesca Cansani I concur with DR. Alain Robert Coulon's that the term "well educated" is not meant to be defined as "out of the bush".  I don't find "clumsy" to be an adjective to describe the authors intent either. Ambiguous, yes. I am very doubtful the author had intended "well educated" to be viewed as something that can be measured from an educational background such as formal education. What I do believe is that there is a common sense element to the term, i also think that a Western versus higher education of  world knowledge may be appropriate for further discussion. I think you put too much interpretation on the term and the good doctors feedback is important to help the reader be more objective to the term. Well educated can be a very tricky term to define. If I had received my degree from lets say Thammasat University, in Thailand as opposed to a college here in the states lesser than Harvard, or Yale and step in one down to Princeton than I think we can make a comparison to the type of education one might receive. Only the author can answer the question as to define the use of the term in question. 

     
     
  • Absolutely! Eye contact is conversation. It is the body language aspect of communication.  You can tell a lot about what a persons true intent of their statements to you by looking them in the eyes. That is why so many email or text messages, or even this writing to this post could be misconstrued. The reader will have a better comprehension of whether my sincerity is true or possibly just speaking to hear myself talk. Many times we have tried to communicate with others verbally or with written text and the true content of our meaning can possibly misconstrued. Especially if we are addressing strangers who do not know our personality or culture. When we talk to a familiar person such as a family member, or friend we have known for years, eye contact may not be as important as if it were someone we have just met. Sarcasm is a perfect example of this. When I jest with a person who doesn't know my true character, there is a great chance of communication breakdown. I also am familiar with an old saying "Truth in jest". While the person may be joking with you, some of the things they are saying may be the truth?

     

    It often depends on what type of communication the people are involved in.  For example, if there is age difference between the people communicating the younger one is not expected to stare at the older one.  It is regarded as impolite and arrogant.  This is the case in most rural communities of South Africa.  However if the younger person is trying to prove his/her innocence it becomes necessary to look at the older one who will 'study' the eyes for such innocence.  How accurate this is is debatable but it is a common situation among rural people. 

     
    •  

      Hi Alain,I don't know if you have considered Goffman's concept of civil inattention. the use of glance as a recognition of someone else's presence, but furtive enough not be perceived as menacing or engaging. this is particularily needed in big cities, where meeting strangers and having no time or will to interact becomes an ordinary thing. So I guess it is not only a matter of geographical and ethnical origin but also of setting or scene, for instance in Rural / Urban environments.

      Goffman, Erving. "The presentation of self in everyday life." (1959): 1-17.

      and :

      1. Simmel, Georg. The metropolis and mental life. na, 1903.
      2. Elias, Norbert. "The society of individuals (M. Schröter, Ed.; E. Jephcott, Trans)." (1991).

      • Deleted

        Absolutely "eye contact" is more important than language, symbols, or other means of communication. Sometimes body language will give it all way if you can read it right!

      • It often depends on what type of communication the people are involved in.  For example, if there is age difference between the people communicating the younger one is not expected to stare at the older one.  It is regarded as impolite and arrogant.  This is the case in most rural communities of South Africa.  However if the younger person is trying to prove his/her innocence it becomes necessary to look at the older one who will 'study' the eyes for such innocence.  How accurate this is is debatable but it is a common situation among rural people. 

     


      • You can read all about the person from the eyes. It is very important, because what one reads in the eyes helps to cure any false mind ideas about that person. Eyes don't lie, our mind is often later surprised...

     

    • Absolutely Yes. Eye contacts are very important in proper communications. Eye contacts reflect the respect to the person we interact with, interest in the matter of discussion, appreciation and understanding the person and the matter  etc.  Eye contact can be the difference between seeming aloof and a new friendship.  Numerous studies have shown that people who make higher-levels of eye contact with others are perceived as being more dominant,  powerful, warm,  attractive, likeable, skilled, competent, valuable,  trustworthy, honest and emotionally stable.