Did You Know? — Eye Contact Is Key To Crossing Street Safely (Body Language Tip)

Published on April 13, 2015

The Key To Crossing The Street Safely:  Eye Contact
Wall Street Journal – March 31, 2015
By Ann Lukits


eye_contactDrivers stopped more often at crosswalks if pedestrians looked directly into their eyes.

To reduce the chance of getting hit when crossing a street, pedestrians might want to stare at the oncoming drivers, a study suggests.

Drivers stopped more often if pedestrians looked directly into their eyes as the car approached the crosswalk than when they didn’t make eye contact, according to the study, published in the June issue of Safety Science. Men were more likely than women to stop if the pedestrian staring at them was a man.

Eye contact has been shown to enhance the perception of a person’s status and dominance and it may be seen as an implicit order to stop, the researchers said. Another possible explanation is that staring may trigger a desire in drivers to make a good impression on the pedestrian by stopping, they said. Previous research has found drivers also were more likely to stop for hitchhikers who looked them in the face.

About 5,000 pedestrians die and 76,000 are injured in traffic collisions in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the latest study, conducted in Vannes, France, four students tested 2,560 drivers, nearly 60% of whom were men, at four pedestrian crosswalks. The students, two men and two women, ages 19 to 21, either fixed their gaze on the face of an oncoming driver until the driver stopped or drove on, or they looked in the general direction of the car, but not at the driver.

If a driver stopped, the student crossed the street and walked for 10 seconds before returning to the crosswalk. Students tested drivers over four days, alternating staring and not staring every 10 cars.

Overall, about two-thirds of drivers stopped for women compared with 58% for men. But when eye contact was made with drivers, 68% stopped for the pedestrians, compared with 55% of drivers who stopped without eye contact.

Another finding: When the pedestrian was a man, male drivers were 30% more likely to stop when stared at, compared with no staring. But when a woman pedestrian made eye contact, male drivers were 20% more likely to stop. “Some research has reported that men who gaze at other individuals in the eyes are perceived as dominant,” suggested lead researcher Dr. Nicolas Guéguen, professor of behavioral sciences at the Université de Bretagne-Sud.

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