Hietanen, Peltola, and Hietanen studied the experience of being looked at by others. They report that “Another person's gaze directed to oneself elicits autonomic arousal and facial reactions indicating positive affect [mood] in its observer. . . . We measured psychophysiological responses to another person's direct versus averted gaze in three conditions: live interaction, bidirectional video call, and watching a mere video. . . . In the live and video call conditions, but not in the mere video condition, direct gaze increased autonomic arousal in comparison to averted gaze. In all three conditions, however, direct gaze elicited positive affective facial reactions. . . . the present study shows is that this energetic power of eye contact is so strong that it may even overcome the constraints of physical distance.” So, data were collected when people were either both in the same place, when they were simultaneously participating in a video call (think: Zoom) or when a person was watching a video of another person (the mere video condition). When the participant was watching a (mere) video of another person, they knew that they were watching a video. When they were watching the (mere) video, study participants were aware that no one could be looking back at them; in the other two conditions they knew another person could be looking at them. During the video call and (mere) video conditions cameras and computer screens were carefully placed so that the impression of eye contact was created during direct gaze test periods.
Jonne Hietanen, Mikko Peltola, and Jari Hietanen. 2020. “Psychophysiological Responses to Eye Contact in a Live Interaction and in Video Call.” Psychophysiology, vol. 57, no. 6, e13587, https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13587