I found this read quite interesting simply because of two things: one, it is very difficult to stare directly into someone’s eyes for one minute much less ten. It must have felt really uncomfortable and disconcerting for those involved. Two, the psychology behind why this happens is quite fascinating. So consider me intrigued after reading how weird things start to happen when you stare into someone’s eyes for 10 minutes (emphasis added):

A psychologist based in Italy says he has found a simple way to induce in healthy people an altered state of consciousness – simply get two individuals to look into each other’s eyes for 10 minutes while they are sitting in a dimly lit room. The sensations that ensue resemble mild “dissociation” – a rather vague psychological term for when people lose their normal connection with reality. It can include feeling like the world is unreal, memory loss and odd perceptual experiences, such as seeing the world in black and white.

Giovanni Caputo recruited 20 young adults (15 women) to form pairs. Each pair sat in chairs opposite each other, one metre apart, in a large, dimly lit room. Specifically, the lighting level was 0.8 lx, which Caputo says “allowed detailed perception of the fine face traits but attenuated colour perception.” The participants’ task was simply to stare into each other’s eyes for 10 minutes, all the while maintaining a neutral facial expression. A control group of a further 20 participants also sat in a dimly lit room in pairs, but their chairs faced the wall and they stared at the wall. Beforehand both groups were told that the study was going to involve a “meditative experience with eyes open.”

When the 10 minutes were over the participants filled out three questionnaires: the first was an 18-item test of dissociative states; the other asked questions about their experience of the other person’s face (or their own face if they were in the control group).

The participants in the eye-staring group said they’d had a compelling experience unlike anything they’d felt before. They also scored higher on all three questionnaires than the control group. On the dissociative states test, they gave the strongest ratings to items related to reduced colour intensity, sounds seeming quieter or louder than expected, becoming spaced out, and time seeming to drag on. On the strange-face questionnaire, 90 per cent of the eye-staring group agreed that they’d seen some deformed facial traits, 75 per cent said they’d seen a monster, 50 per cent said they saw aspects of their own face in their partner’s face, and 15 per cent said they’d seen a relative’s face.

Caputo thinks the facial hallucinations are a kind of rebound effect, as the participants in the eye-staring group returned to “reality” after dissociating. This is largely speculation and he admits that the study should be considered preliminary. I’d also highlight that while it’s true the eye-staring group scored higher than controls on dissociative states, they didn’t score any of the items on the scale higher than 2.45, on average, on a five-point scale (where 0 is “not at all” and 5 would be “extremely”).