eye contact and amygdala stimulation?


I’m in the midst of a CE training by Janina Fisher–Traumatic Attachment & Affect Dysregulation–and here is something she just said (not quote…my recollection),

When you make eye contact with another, you stimulate the amgydala. The arousal of this part of the brain arouses emotions, especially those connected with desire for or fear of intimacy. The point is that eye contact stimulates the attachment system which in turn plays on our feelings about being in relationship with others.

Later, she quoted someone (named Benjamin), “To be known or recognized is immediately to experience the other’s power. The other becomes the one who can give or withhold recognition: who can see what is hidden; who can reach, conceivably even violate, the core self.”

Thus, some clients (those who are ambivalent) find our “seeing them” (via empathy) as anxiety provoking. Counselors do well to help the client notice these reactions without over-stimulating reactions (which likely would trigger fight/flight reaction).

How you feel about making eye-contact with another depends largely on (a) how you feel about that person, or (b) how you feel about yourself. Both feelings depend on prior experiences and perceptions of self and other.

Try out a few moments of eye contact, either with someone you have authority over (supervisee, child, student) or someone who has power in your life (spouse, boss, teacher). What reactions did you have? Reactions in your body, thoughts, feelings? What impulses did you have? What does this tell you about how your brain works in regard to knowing and being known?

1 Comment

Filed under counseling, counseling science, Psychology, Uncategorized

One response to “eye contact and amygdala stimulation?

  1. Shirley

    Fascinating – that helps explain why eye-contact is so distressing to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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