Staring into someone's eyes for 10 minutes can give you disturbing hallucinations

Psychologist finds that staring into someone else’s eyes for 10 minutes is enough to induce drug free state of consciousness

An Italy based psychologist claims to have found some simple method with which he can induce a drug free state of consciousness in healthy people.

During his experiment he made 20 volunteers to sit one meter apart and stare into each others eyes at a stretch for 10 minutes, in a dimly lit room.

The outcome of the experiment was quite strange and volunteers claimed to have experienced an altered state of consciousness that included viewing some disturbing hallucinations of monsters. Some were also able to see the faces of their relatives or themselves in their partner’s face.

Experiment to study meditative experience with open eyes:

Giovanni Caputo, psychologist from the University of Urbino, conducted the study on 10 pairs “Test group”, which consisted of 20 young adults of which 15 were women. Now, the individual volunteer in each pair was made to sit at a distance of one meter and the entire experiment was conducted in a dimly lit room. The arrangement of lighting was such that volunteers were able to make out the facial features of their respective partners; however the light was not enough to make out the overall color perception. This group was instructed to stare in the eyes of their partners for 10 minutes at a stretch.

Another set of 20 volunteers made up the “control group” and they too were made to sit in pairs and in dimly lit room with the only difference that they were asked to stare the blank wall for 10 minutes instead of each other’s eyes.

Both the groups were not aware of the actual purpose of this study and they were just informed that it had something to do with “meditative experience with eyes open”.

After completion of 10 minutes, the volunteers from both the groups had to complete the questionnaires which was related to their experiences that they felt during and after the experiment.

The Test group had to fill a set of questionnaire which focused on ‘dissociative symptoms which might have been experienced by the volunteers, while the other questionnaire asked volunteers to mention what they perceived in their partner’s face during the experiment.

In case of the Control group, the volunteers were asked to mention what they saw in their own face.

Dissociation: In psychology when a person undergoes some experiences which makes them feel detached from their immediate surroundings this is termed as ‘dissociation’. Usual symptoms linked with dissociation are loss of memory, visualizing everything in distorted colors or even feeling like the world is not real.

Normally, a state of dissociation can be induced in a person by using drugs such as ketamine, alcohol, and LSD; or it can be brought on by using abuse and trauma. Now, the experiment conducted  by Caputo shows that dissociation can also be induced in healthy individuals by face-staring.

Christian Jarrett who writes for British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, explained: “The participants in the eye-staring group said they’d had a compelling experience unlike anything they’d felt before.”

Caputo’s study has been reported in the journal Pyschiatry Research. The experiment revealed that the Test group or the eye staring group was able to score over the control group in all the questionnaires. Hence, Caputo concluded that staring into another human being’s eye at a stretch for 10 minutes has a deep effect on the visual perception and mental state of humans.

According to Jarrett :

“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, and 15 percent said they’d seen a relative’s face.”

When he was speaking about his recent study, Caputo recalled his study which he had conducted in 2010.

Then, Caputo had conducted a similar experiment using 50 volunteers whom he made to stare at themselves in a mirror for 10 uninterrupted minutes. His study has been published in a paper entitled,  Strange-Face-in-the-Mirror Illusion. At that time, Caputo’s experiment reported that in a matter of less than a minute the volunteers had visualized “strange face illusion”.

Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik, who write for Scientific American, mentioned: “The participants’ descriptions included huge deformations of their own faces; seeing the faces of alive or deceased parents; archetypal faces such as an old woman, child or the portrait of an ancestor; animal faces such as a cat, pig or lion; and even fantastical and monstrous beings. All 50 participants reported feelings of ‘otherness’ when confronted with a face that seemed suddenly unfamiliar. Some felt powerful emotions.”

Jarrett explained that in Caputo’s most recent experiment, it was observed that on an average the test group or eye staring group was able to score 2.45 points higher in their questionnaire than the control group. A five point scale was used wherein 0 indicated “not at all” and 5 meant “extremely”.

Conclusion:

Caputo confirmed that in comparison, the effects experienced by volunteers in his recent study were higher than those experienced by his 2010 mirror starring volunteers.

One would definitely like to know why so? Why is it that a volunteer experiences higher effect when staring into eyes of another person rather than just staring blank wall or staring self in a mirror? Why staring into eyes of another person for just 10 minutes gives you disturbing hallucinations?

Finally, Martinez-Conde and Macknik explained that this is more due to a condition termed as ‘Neural adaptation’.

During Neural adaptation, the neurons start to slow down or even stop responding to unchanging stimulation. This condition occurs when a person stares some scene or object for an extended period of time. Unless and until that person blinks or changes the scene the perception would begin to fade. This can be rectified by inflicting very small involuntary eye movements which is also termed as microsaccades.

Have you ever been complimented to have been bestowed with mesmerizing beautiful eyes….well, if it is yes, you can use them to hypnotize someone!! Caputo believes interpersonal gazing has powerful dissociative effect than staring self into a mirror.

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