The Brain Craves Eye Contact, Even If It Is a Cartoon

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Have you ever wondered why so many marketing departments choose to feature a human or animal as their mascot and brand representative on packaging? The Quaker Oats Man is a good example. How many Quakers are there any more? Shouldn’t the old pacifist only be attractive to similar Quakers? If so, the brand would be shut down fairly quickly. How about Aunt Jemima? Her pancake syrup is some of the best, but wouldn’t a plot of maple trees on the label sell more of the sticky good stuff?

The answer to these questions is a resounding “no,” and we now know why. Researchers have pinpointed cognitive activity in certain parts of the brain when we make direct eye contact with people or even inanimate objects. Scientists at the esteemed Cornell University used hundreds of boxes of the popular children’s cereal Trix; this brand’s box features a “silly rabbit.” The Trix rabbit was manipulated to have some boxes feature direct eye contact with viewers and other boxes featuring the Trix rabbit looking away. Surprisingly, the boxes with the rabbit making direct eye contact with potential customers sold remarkably better than those whose boxes had the rabbit diverting his gaze.

The brain processes direct eye contact in a way that solidifies relationships and builds trust. Those who do not look directly at others very often are much more likely to suffer from depression and even schizophrenia. Interestingly, while the Trix rabbit’s direct gaze sold more boxes of cereal, only direct eye contact from human to human can trigger the cognitive triggers in the brain. Surprisingly, even those people who are legally blind show increased cognitive activity when someone looks them directly in the eye. Next time you are in the supermarket, take a look at the various brand faces and see what happens