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The evil eye: Eye gaze and competitiveness in social decision making

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European Journal of Social Psychology

Published online on


We demonstrate that a person's eye gaze and his/her competitiveness are closely intertwined in social decision making. In an exploratory examination of this relationship, Study 1 uses field data from a high‐stakes TV game show to demonstrate that the frequency by which contestants gaze at their opponent's eyes predicts their defection in a variant on the prisoner's dilemma. Studies 2 and 3 use experiments to examine the underlying causality and demonstrate that the relationship between gazing and competitive behavior is bi‐directional. In Study 2, fixation on the eyes, compared to the face, increases competitive behavior toward the target in an ultimatum game. In Study 3, we manipulate the framing of a negotiation (cooperative vs. competitive) and use an eye tracker to measure fixation number and time spent fixating on the counterpart's eyes. We find that a competitive negotiation elicits more gazing, which in turn leads to more competitive behavior.