Look into my eyes: can 10 minutes of staring make you hallucinate?

eyes

Gaze adoringly at your loved one, and they will soon look deformed, monstrous or like your mother, according to a study. One writer puts it to the test

The first two minutes are the trickiest. My partner, C, and I are seated opposite one another in our bedroom, staring into each other’s eyes. As she does every single morning after finishing her breakfast, our dog saunters in and burps resonantly, as close to our faces as she can aim. We burst into laughter but do not break eye contact. Only another eight minutes to go …

We’re doing something we’ve never done in our 11 years together: looking into each other’s eyes without pausing, smiling or talking for 10 minutes. No, this is not some Relate-endorsed attempt to save our relationship, though I wouldn’t put it past C, who has just qualified as a Gestalt therapist and does this sort of thing for larks, to suggest it. “Ten minutes?” she splutters when I instruct her to come home immediately and look into my eyes. “Last time I did it, it was only four and I was in love with the man by the end!”

This experiment has a different purpose. Italian psychologist Giovanni Caputo recently performed it on 20 people, and found that gazing deeply into someone’s eyes can alter consciousness, produce hallucinations and create feelings of dissociation. The results, published in Psychiatry Research, revealed 90% hallucinated a deformed face, 75% saw a monster, 50% said their partner’s face morphed into their own and 15% saw a relative’s face. Basically, looking into a person’s eyes can be seriously trippy.

I feel nervous, which seems ridiculous considering I’ve seen C lose her father, she’s seen me give birth and hers is the face I’ve looked at most in my adult life. But what if it is the equivalent of feeding a mogwai after midnight and C goes all gremlin on me? Will I ever look at her in the same way again? Also, we had a fight earlier. Maybe now isn’t the best time to be gazing into each other’s eyes, looking for monsters.

With all these misgivings pouring out of the windows to my soul, I set the stopwatch and we’re off …

Minute one: my heart knocks in my chest, I keep forgetting to breathe and C’s eyes seem to have hoovered up all the oxygen in the room. Must all forms of meditation begin this way?

Minute two: dog burp.

Minute three: the world seems very loud (as people in Caputo’s experiment also reported). Buses wheeze, traffic lights beep, the damn dog breathes.

Minute five: how have I never noticed how blue C’s eyes are? The windows are reflected in her pupils, producing winking white lights at each centre like two tiny parties. Definitely a bit hallucinatory. I spend ages looking at her left eye, then the right, then I try to look at them at the same time. Ow. Looking into someone’s eyes is surprisingly hard. We should really call it looking into someone’s eye.

Minute seven: I don’t see monsters, myself or my mother, but I do start to zone out. C’s face goes a bit distorted, like when my friends and I used to draw eyes on our chins and hang upside down. When I blink, I can still see the blotted outline of C’s face, as if my eyes have been dazzled by the sun. I start to think mmm, I could do this forever … and then the alarm goes off.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Chitra Ramaswamy, for The Guardian on Monday 24th August 2015 16.39 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010