Sept. 4, 2020 | By Carlton Moeller | Illustration by Jubilee Hernandez
Have you ever tried to make eye contact with someone over Zoom? It is impossible. When interacting with someone face to face, the ‘camera’ that we see them with is our eyes. Because of this, eye contact is the simultaneous locking of our cameras, our eyes. Over Zoom, the camera is often above the screen on which you see people’s faces. Eye contact cannot be made, because you must look at the camera and the screen at the same time.
The lack of eye contact is one aspect of why interaction over the internet is so awkward and artificial. There is neuroscientific evidence that when we make eye contact with someone, the same muscles that are active in forming their facial expression also are simulated in our brain. What does this mean? When we look into the eyes of someone who is smiling, the same neurons in the motor cortex of our brain that we use to smile become activated. Well, why does it matter that eye contact causes our brains to simulate the facial expression of the person we are looking at? Other research suggests that when one simply makes a facial expression for an emotion such as fear, then one actually begins to feel that emotion, fear. All this means that when we look into someone’s eyes, our brain simulates their facial expression, causing us to feel the way they do.
In this way, the eyes are really like a window into someone’s soul, if we define soul as someone’s phenomenological emotional experience and window as our brain’s closest approximation of what that feels like.
This is why I urge everybody to get outside and actually meet face-to-face, six feet apart, both with a mask on. Over video-chat, our brains are missing a fundamental subconscious emotional experience that we are wired to receive during interaction. Some recent studies claim that sunlight kills the virus. So, break out into the sunlight and make eye contact with your friends!