Forget LSD: eyes are the new high. We are talking about staring intensely into a pair for a prolonged period of time. Apparently, this can make people enter into an altered state of consciousness.

A psychologist in Italy called Giovanni Caputo from the University of Urbino, asked 20 volunteers to sit and stare into each other’s eyes for 10 minutes straight in a dimly lit room. They were one meter away from each other and the light in the room was bright enough for the volunteers to easily make out the facial features of their partner, but low enough to diminish their overall color perception

A control group of 20 more volunteers were asked to sit and stare for 10 minutes in another dimly lit room in pairs, but their chairs were facing a blank wall.

Once the 10 minutes were up, the volunteers were asked to complete 3 questionnaires; one of them focused on any dissociative symptoms that the volunteers might have experienced, and another one asked them on what they saw in their partner’s face (eye-staring group) or their own face (control group). 

Dissociation is a term used in psychology to describe a whole range of psychological experiences that make a person feel detached from their immediate surroundings. Symptoms such as a loss of memory, seeing everything in distorted colors, or feeling like the world isn’t real can be brought on by abuse and trauma; drugs such as ketamine, alcohol, and LSD; and now, apparently even face-staring.

90 percent of the eye-staring group agreed that they had seen some deformed facial traits, 75 percent said they had seen a monster, 50 percent said they saw aspects of their own face in their partner's face, and 15 percent said they had seen a relative's face. All 40 participants reported feelings of ‘otherness' when confronted with a face that seemed suddenly unfamiliar. Some felt powerful emotions.

So what is going here? Martinez-Conde and Macknik explain that it's likely to do with neural adaptation, which describes how our neurons can slow down or even stop their response to unchanging stimulation. It happens when you stare at anything – your perception will start to fade until you blink, the scene changes, or can be rectified by tiny involuntary eye movements called micro saccades.

There is still a lot to learn about these strange phenomena, and Caputo is the first to admit that his work is still in its infancy. It would be interesting to find out what brings about these strange hallucinations, since although dim lighting seems to be required, it cannot be the only factor.

References:

  • http://www.sciencealert.com/staring-into-someone-s-eyes-for-10-minutes-induces-an-altered-state-of-consciousness
  • http://www.iflscience.com/brain/you-can-alter-your-mind-staring-someones-eyes-10-minutes
  • http://www.businessinsider.com/why-staring-into-someones-eyes-will-give-you-disturbing-hallucinations-2015-8
  • http://digest.bps.org.uk/2015/08/weird-things-start-to-happen-when-you.html
  • Image adapted from: http://i.imgur.com/sAikvIt.png

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