Japanese find eye contact makes others unapproachable Removing barriers to cross-cultural communication

April 9, 2013

It is known that East Asians make less eye contact compared to Europeans and North Americans. However, it was not known why such a cultural difference exists.

Actual human faces were presented through a liquid crystal shutter and heart rates and impression were measured. Faces with direct gaze decreased heart rates both in Japanese and Finnish people. However, Japanese people rated faces with direct gaze more “unapproachable” and “angrier” than did Finnish people.
© Hironori Akechi

Professor Toshikazu Hasegawa, Dr. Hironori Akechi and their group at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Professor Jari Hietanen from the University of Tampere, Finland found that there are cultural differences in the impression formed by Japanese and Finnish people about another person making an eye contact.

The research group measured heart rate changes and impressions of another person’s face with direct gaze (eye contact), averted gaze, or closed eyes. Both Japanese and Finnish people showed decreased heart rates on seeing a face with direct gaze compared to a face with averted gaze, indicating that eye contact grabbed the attention of both groups. However, it was revealed that Japanese people rated a face with direct gaze as more “unapproachable” and “angrier” than did Finnish people.

Eye contact is an important part of social communication, and this research clearly demonstrates the need to bear in mind the importance of cultural differences when engaging in cross-cultural communication. Future research is required to examine the applicability of this result to daily communicative practice in other Western and East Asian societies.

This research was published in the journal “PLOS ONE” on 13 March 2013 (Eastern Standard Time).

Press release (Japanese)


Hironori Akechi, Atsushi Senju, Helen Uibo, Yukiko Kikuchi, Toshikazu Hasegawa, and Jari K. Hietanen,
“Attention to eye contact in the West and East: autonomic responses and evaluative ratings”,
PLOS ONE Online Edition: 2013/3/14 (Japan time), doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059312.
Article link


Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Department of Life Sciences, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (Japanese)

Hasegawa/Saito Laboratory, Department of Life Sciences, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

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