Staring contests are automatic: People lock eyes to establish dominance

February 25, 2011

Imagine that you're in a bar and you accidentally knock over your neighbor's beer. He turns around and stares at you, looking for confrontation. Do you buy him a new drink, or do you try to outstare him to make him back off? New research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that the dominance behavior exhibited by staring someone down can be reflexive.

Our primate relatives certainly get into battles; they mostly resolve the dominance hierarchy not through fighting, but through staring contests. And humans are like that, too. David Terburg, Nicole Hooiveld, Henk Aarts, J. Leon Kenemans, and Jack van Honk of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands wanted to examine something that's been assumed in a lot of research: that staring for dominance is automatic for humans.

For the study, participants watched a computer screen while a series of colored ovals appeared. Below each oval were blue, green, and red dots; they were supposed to look away from the oval to the dot with the same color. What they didn't know was that for a split-second before the colored oval appeared, a face of the same color appeared, with either an angry, happy, or neutral expression. So the researchers were testing how long it took for people to look away from faces with different emotions. Participants also completed a questionnaire that reflected how dominant they were in social situations.

People who were more motivated to be dominant were also slower to look away from angry faces, while people who were motivated to seek rewards gazed at the happy faces longer. In other words, the assumptions were correct—for people who are dominant, engaging in gaze contests is a reflex.

"When people are dominant, they are dominant in a snap of a second," says Terburg. "From an evolutionary point of view, it's understandable—if you have a dominance motive, you can't have the reflex to look away from angry people; then you have already lost the gaze contest."

Your best bet in the bar, though, might just be to buy your neighbor a new beer.

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not rated yet Feb 27, 2011
Coincidentally my son had this happen the other day. He had to actually follow the guy who spilled his drink and he finally paid for his drink. He wouldn't have though if my other son hadn't kept his eye on the guys pals WHILE he paid for the drink. Later on though my son had to smack the guy because the guy actually DIDN'T want to pay for the drink and carried it to the point of confrontation.
"Your best bet in the bar, though, might just be to buy your neighbor a new beer"
It is actually .. fair .. isn't it ? My sons have a sense of fairness instilled and so by not being fair around them is asking for trouble .. especially if they are drinking.
So it may be a little more than simple 'dominance' involved.
not rated yet Feb 27, 2011
Your son did not [have] to follow anyone, as you put it. Your son did not [have] to smack anyone. I'll tell you fair... Our "justice" system would have your child behind bars if he'd hit me.
not rated yet Feb 28, 2011
You don't seem to understand. The fellow took it to the OTHER level later which carried it to the POINT of 'dominance'. The person in case you didn't understand who threw the FIRST punch was YOU and you were the worse FOR it. As to anyone going to jail .. it would have been both of you .. you for throwing the punch and my son for kicking your ass and the ONLY one who SHOULD have gone to jail was YOU for throwing the first punch. Read to comprehend.
not rated yet Feb 28, 2011
'An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind'.
not rated yet Feb 28, 2011
It seems 'standing up for what it RIGHT' has fallen on deaf ears. IF you think 'the buck DOES stop with me' is a bad thing then the NEXT guy in line FOR this fellas disrespect just might be YOU. If you think each and every one of us is NOT responsible FOR his own little world which may or may not overlap other peoples' worlds then the world is a sorry place. In normal circumstances one should call the police for his 'accidentally spilling your drink' but that doesn't happen so one takes it upon himself to BE the police. I had the same thing happen to me in a different situation and he said "call the cops" .. and I said " look around it is just you and me and I don't NEED to call the cops understand buddy ?" .. and guess what ? .. he complied .. ONLY because he understood he was wrong and the present 'authority' was 'calling him on it'. The buck stops with you .. or it should .. imho.

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