People have been practicing meditation for thousands of years. These days, the ability to focus your mind on an object, or a mantra, or even your own breathing, is used to usher in relaxation and stress reduction. Focusing one’s attention on something and blocking out thoughts and extraneous stimuli helps some increase their physical and emotional well-being. However, a 2015 experiment by an Italian researcher achieved quite different results. Twenty volunteers were asked to stare into another’s eyes for 10 minutes. Twenty others stared at a blank wall. But the participants who stared into each other's eyes didn’t find inner peace. Based on a questionnaire taken after the experiment, the participants experienced dissociative symptoms such as memory loss, visual distortion, detachment from reality, and an altered state of consciousness -- as though they’d taken a mind-altering drug.
Look into my eyes:
- Dissociation is a term used in psychology to describe a range of psychological experiences that make a person feel detached from their immediate surroundings.
- “The participants in the eye-staring group said they'd had a compelling experience unlike anything they'd felt before,” researcher Christian Jarrett wrote in the British Psychological Society's Research Digest.
- The researchers explained that the results probably had something to do with a concept called “neural adaptation,” where a person’s neurons slow down, or even stop, in response to unchanging stimulation.