Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Staring into someone’s eyes for 10 minutes induces an altered state of consciousness

You may have been told you have mesmerizing or hypnotic eyes.

Now a psychologist has found that staring into someone’s eyes for 10 minutes can cause you to hallucinate.

In an experiment, people claimed to have experienced an altered state of consciousness, including seeing distorted faces and even monsters.

Giovanni Caputo of the University of Urbino in Italy conducted the experiment in a dimly-lit room where 20 volunteers were asked to stare into each other’s eyes continuously for 10 minutes, the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest reported. 

They were not told the purpose of the experiment, other than it was a ‘meditative experience with eyes open’.

The volunteers sat in pairs three feet (one metre) away from each other in the room, which was low lit to dampen their colour perception while allowing the participants to easily see their partner’s facial features.

Another control group of 20 were asked to sit in an identically lit room and stare at a blank wall for the same amount of time. 

After 10 minutes, all the participants were asked to complete questionnaires about their experience of the experiment.

One asked them what they saw in their partner’s face, and the other about feelings of dissociation, or detachment from their surroundings.

The volunteers in the eye-staring group reported feeling different to before, including losing their connection with reality.

They also said that sounds seemed quieter or louder than expected, time seemed to drag and they felt spaced out.

A total of 90% of the eye-staring group said they saw deformed facial features, with three quarters of the group claiming to have seen monsters.

Half said they saw some of their own facial features in their partner's face and 15 per cent said they saw a relative's face.

The study found that dissociative symptoms and 'face dysmorphia' were correlated, but strange-face apparitions such as monsters and dissociation were not.

‘These results indicate that dissociative symptoms and hallucinatory phenomena during interpersonal-gazing under low illumination can involve different processes,’ Dr Caputo writes in the paper, published in the journal Psychiatry Research

Dr Caputo believes there is something about staring into another person’s eyes that has a profound effect on people’s perception and mental states.

He writes that 'strange-face apparitions' may occur during the rebound to ‘reality’ from the exercise, which he describes as a ‘dissociative state induced by sensory deprivation’.

The results seem to support the psychologist’s previous study which involved 50 volunteers staring at themselves in a mirror for 10 minutes, Science Alert reported.

The 2010 experiment found that people started seeing ‘strange face illusions’ after just one minute and all of them experienced a feeling of ‘otherness’.

Some saw their own facial feature change or those of other people, ancestors or animals as well as monsters, Scientific American reported. 

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