Washington:  A feeling of inclusion can come from something as simple as eye contact from a stranger, a new study has found. Eric D. Wesselmann and his colleagues from Purdue University carried out the study. “Some of my coauthors have found, for example, that people have reported that they felt bothered sometimes even when a stranger hasn’t acknowledged them,” Wesselmann said.

Wesselmann and his team came up with an experiment to test that. DepressedA research assistant walked along a well-populated path, picked a subject, and either met that person’s eyes, met their eyes and smiled, or looked in the direction of the person’s eyes, but past them—past an ear, for example, “looking at them as if they were air,” Wesselmann said.

When the assistant had passed the person, he or she gave a thumbs-up behind the back to indicate that another experimenter should stop that person. The second experimenter asked, “Within the last minute, how disconnected do you feel from others?”

People who had gotten eye contact from the research assistant, with or without a smile, felt less disconnected than people who had been looked at as if they weren’t there. “These are people that you don’t know, just walking by you, but them looking at you or giving you the air gaze—looking through you—seemed to have at least momentary effect,” Wesselmann said. The study has been published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science.