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Eye Contact -- What Are You Silently Saying

Author: Jessica Paul

Editor: Harish Rajan


Graphic of coronavirus with COVID-19 text overlay.
Image Credit: Kalea Jerielle (Unsplash)

You make eye contact with countless people every day, yet do you know exactly what it says about you? In today’s society, eye contact is heavily weighed when taking in somebody’s body language and facial expressions. It is so important that children as young as two days old recognize eye contact by preferring to pay attention to faces whose gaze is on them. By the time children are toddlers, they believe breaking eye contact makes them invisible, which is why they love to play peek-a-boo. However, by the time we are adults, continuous eye contact makes people more aware of their actions and self-conscious.


Even though eye contact can be awkward for anyone at times, some specific characteristics and disorders can make it even worse. Out of the five factors of personality, neuroticism has been linked directly to being less comfortable with eye contact. To get specific, the people who have the withdrawal symptoms of neuroticism- anxiety, depression, and self-consciousness more commonly are uncomfortable with eye contact than the people exhibiting volatility. Other than wishing to avoid the gaze of others, these people feel better when they are looking away from others.


Autistic individuals commonly avoid eye contact as well since they are uncomfortable with the intimacy associated with it. Their lack of eye contact is also a reason why they might struggle to remember the faces of people they meet. It is also essential to note that while the general population will often warm up and become more comfortable with eye contact, people with autism have a much lower capability to do so. Other disorders that can make people feel uncomfortable include PTSD, alexithymia, and social anxiety.


These people are at a significant social disadvantage. For one thing, it may cause the message they are trying to send to be less impactful. For example, a person’s expression of anger gets taken more seriously when they’re actively making eye contact. In women, if they avoid making eye contact during a conversation, they tend to be seen as less sincere. That assumption is likely due to the common myth that liars often avoid making eye contact. A lack of eye contact may also be an indicator that a person is not sure how to control their emotions. All of that combined can cause an uncomfortable situation for those around them.


Then, on the other hand, if anyone maintains eye contact for an extended amount of time, people may begin to think they’re psychopathic. On a less extreme note, longer but not uncomfortable levels of eye contact tend to send a message of authority to others. Usually, the person is trying to be seen as the figure in control and dominate the situation. Sometimes, this can go as far as causing the other person to be intimidated.


The ways people pick up clues from eye contact span is beyond the duration of someone’s gaze. Actions such as blinking frequently (a sign of lack of confidence), squinting (suspected liar), and shifting your gaze left or right (remembering/forming ideas) all are ways that everybody can connect.


Eye contact is essential for every conversation, but it plays an active role in the development of romantic relationships. When you are attracted to someone, the same signals from your eyes send a different message than if you were talking with your boss. For example, a telltale sign of attraction is the dilation of the pupils. Even though that isn’t the only reason a person’s pupils dilate, it wouldn’t be too hard to guess why. Also, in a time when everybody is preoccupied with listening to Spotify or scrolling on Instagram, mutual eye contact sends an important message. It allows both people to know there might be some ‘spark’ between them.


Eye contact manages to impact many aspects of a person’s life. From tough work situations to romantic dates, your gaze unconsciously sends signals that attribute to your persona. However, when a person struggles with maintaining proper eye contact for any reason, those simple messages are no longer such mindless indicators of their emotions.


References


Allie. (2018, April 12). The Secrets of Eye Contact. Retrieved from https://exploringyourmind.com/the-secrets-of-eye-contact/.


Jarrett, C. (2017, January 4). The Psychology of Eye Contact, Digested. Retrieved from https://digest.bps.org.uk/2016/11/28/the-psychology-of-eye-contact-digested/.


Psychology of Eye Contact: The Power of Your Eyes. (2018, October 30). Retrieved from https://psychlens.com/psychology-of-eye-contact/.


Ro, C. (2017, July 6). Here’s Why Eye Contact Is So Awkward for Some People. Retrieved from https://www.thecut.com/article/heres-why-eye-contact-is-so-awkward-for-some-people.html.


Wiener-Bronner, D. (2017, July 24). There’s a reason some people hate making eye contact. Retrieved from https://splinternews.com/there-s-a-reason-some-people-hate-making-eye-contact-1793848323.

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