When you look directly into somebody’s eyes, strange things can happen.
We are sure that you might have come across the term “piercing eyes”. But what if someone’s stare was so intense that it managed to evoke an altered state of consciousness?
In fact, one psychologist claims that gazing into someone’s eyes for around 10 minutes straight will lead to experiences that are “out of body”. In addition, you may have hallucinations too, and visions of people that are not present; like our loved ones, family members, or friends.
The experiment was led by Dr. Giovanni Caputo of the University of Urbino Italy in 2015. It was performed in a darkened room where twenty participants sat in pairs while gazing at each other’s eyes attentively for 10 minutes.
The light was strong enough to distinctly display the facial features of their counterparts. However, the dimness was such that it weakened their general sense of color. This is stated by the British Psychological Society journal Research Digest.
Meanwhile, another group of participants was positioned in front of a blank wall in pairs. There were not many details provided to the volunteers about the purpose of the experiment; except that it included a “meditative activity with open eyes”, as reported by Science Alert.
The exercise lasted 10 minutes, and after that, the participants had to complete questionnaires about the things they experienced, to find out if they have altered their state of consciousness.
One of the questionnaires was about any possible feelings of disassociation or alienation they might have had from their surroundings. Whilst the other one asked them about the things they saw when gazing at the face of their partners or their own.
The participants that gazed into the eyes of their partners described feeling different than before. They also started to lose their sense of reality.
This is what Christian Jarrett wrote for Research Digest:
“The participants in the eye-staring group said they’d had a compelling experience, unlike anything they’d felt before.”
Noises seemed either louder or more silent than expected for the eye-gazing group. In addition, time passed slowly, and an overall “spaced-out” feeling caught hold of their state pf consciousness.
This is the explanation that Jarret gave:
“On the dissociative states test, they gave the strongest ratings to items related to reduced color intensity, sounds seeming quieter or louder than expected, becoming spaced out, and time seeming to drag on. On the strange-face questionnaire: 90 percent of the eye-staring group agreed that they’d seen some deformed facial traits; 75 percent said they’d seen a monster; 50 percent said they saw aspects of their own face in their partner’s face; 15 percent said they’d seen a relative’s face.”
Volunteers reported huge deformations when it came to their own faces, the faces of their dead or alive family members, and animal faces. They also described faces that belong to typical figures such as portraits of children, old women, or ancestors. Most of the unfamiliar faces caused feelings of “strangeness”. Some volunteers felt intense emotions during their journey, as reported by Scientific American.
In his article published by Psychiatry Research, Dr. Caputo stated:
“These results indicate that dissociative symptoms and hallucinatory phenomena during interpersonal-gazing under low illumination can involve different processes.”
In 2010 a previous experiment by Caputo involved 50 participants gazing at themselves in a mirror. That study stated that they started to see what Caputo considers the “strange-face” in less than a minute of staring at their own faces.
Authors Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde describe that what Caputo has come across is what is called neural adaption. They explain that it is a mechanism in which our neurons keep up with stimulation either by stopping or slowing down their reactivity.
When we stare at something like an object for a long period of time, our senses begin to fade away from sight until the image changes or we blink. Additionally, this can also happen if we have the small reflex eye motions know as microsaccades, which immediately restore our perception.