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The Influence of Eye Gaze

Bauer Researchers Analyze Ad Effectiveness Linked to “Averted Gaze”

Published on January 22, 2021

Photo: Vanessa Patrick

Chances are that you have come across some visual images today. Did you simply scroll through, or did something catch your attention? In a visually cluttered world, where 95 million photographs are uploaded on Instagram alone each day, a critical question arises: What makes an image engaging?

Recently published research by two C. T. Bauer College of Business marketing researchers finds compelling evidence that when advertising models are depicted with averted gaze (eyes looking away from the viewer) rather than with a direct gaze (looking straight at the viewer), the viewer becomes more engaged with the ad.

“How the Eyes Connect to the Heart: The Influence of Eye Gaze Direction on Advertising Effectiveness,” by Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship doctoral student Rita Ngoc To and Associate Dean for Research and Marketing Professor Vanessa M. Patrick, integrates insights from social psychology as well as performance and visual art theory understand the impact of eye gaze on engagement and ultimately ad effectiveness. This research is forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research, a leading business journal according to both the FT50 as well as UT Dallas journal rankings, with an impact factor of 6.207.

The researchers conducted five field and lab experiments for this research. In one study, they worked with a company to run a Facebook ad that was identical in every way except that the model was depicted with either an averted or a direct gaze. The study found that consumers were more likely to click on the averted gaze ad and also more likely to buy the advertised product.

Patrick said “What’s interesting is that in social psychology direct gaze is favored. In an interview for instance, we want the interviewee to look directly at us since it conveys honesty, credibility and competence. But, in contrast, we found by looking at several databases, that advertisers tend to use averted gaze a great deal. This difference was intriguing to us, and we set out to understand when marketers should use averted gaze, when direct gaze, and why.”

This research constitutes a part of a growing body of literature in consumer psychology on everyday consumer aesthetics and design.