The Evil Eye: Eye Gaze and Competitiveness in Social Decision Making

M. Giacomantonio, J. Jordan, F. Federico, Martijn J. van den Assem, D. van Dolder

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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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)388-396
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date31 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


We thank Endemol UK for providing us with information and recordings of Golden Balls, and Laura Cirasola and Klasina Holthuis for their skillful research assistance. We also thank Keith Murnighan for his feedback on a prior version of this article. We gratefully acknowledge support from Tinbergen Institute, the Economic and Social Research Council via the Network for Integrated Behavioral Sciences (ES/K002201/1) and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

FundersFunder number
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Network for Integrated Behavioral SciencesES/K002201/1
Tinbergen Institute
Economic and Social Research Council
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek


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