The eye contact we make in our daily lives is important.
This simple act speaks volumes. It tells others we are confident and trustworthy.
Eye contact is how we communicate our emotions and so connect with others on a deeper level.
But what about the absence of eye contact? What does that say about someone?
People who habitually avoid eye contact usually have one or more of the following traits…
1) They’re shy
One of the most common characteristics of those who avoid eye contact is a lack of confidence.
They are usually reserved, restrained, and retiring.
That can be a lot to handle for any of us.
Yet more so for people who feel very uncomfortable with attention.
Avoiding eye contact becomes a strategy to avoid the awkward emotions that come along with someone looking at them.
2) They’re anxious
Being timid is similar to being socially anxious. There are many overlapping qualities.
But feeling shy is a far milder version, and doesn’t necessarily impact on someone’s life quite as much as social anxiety does.
For example, shy people may just need to get to know someone first before they can relax.
But those who have social anxiety disorder may fear eye contact on a whole other level.
Research has found a link between people with social anxiety disorder and this aversion to making eye contact.
That’s because it directly triggers their amygdala which is the part of the brain that warns us of danger.
So it goes beyond feeling a bit uncomfortable, eye contact feels like a distinct threat.
3) They’re self-conscious or have low self-esteem
A certain amount of status comes along with eye contact.
The ability to make and hold eye contact is connected with credibility and dominance.
Research has pointed to the fact that high-status people are looked at, and look more while talking than listening.
If someone is lacking in self-esteem and self-belief, they may not feel worthy enough to look others in the eye.
In avoiding their gaze and looking away they subconsciously signal their inferiority.
In the animal world, avoiding eye contact is often a calming signal that says you are not looking for conflict.
4) They have autistic traits
As we’ve already started to see, avoiding eye contact can go far beyond personality traits.
It can come down to the qualities we have from the way we are wired.
Those with neurological differences interpret and process information in the world around them differently.
Some people are simply overstimulated and hence overwhelmed by the intensity of eye contact.
Research has highlighted that people with autism have greater activity in the neural pathways that process other people’s expressions.
Basically, they’re super sensitive. This means that eye contact becomes not just unpleasant, but even painful for them.
5) They’re arrogant
Not all avoidance of eye contact comes from insecure or inferior feelings.
Sometimes it can signal quite the opposite.
There may be some people who habitually avoid eye contact with only certain sections of society— aka the people they think are beneath them.
As we’ve seen, eye contact is linked to status. If someone feels much better than someone else, they may ignore them altogether.
By failing to look them in the eye, they are dismissing them and their significance.
6) They’re closed-off
On the plus side, you could argue that someone who avoids eye contact seems more enigmatic or mysterious. On the negative side though, they also can seem pretty aloof.
That’s because of the significance eye contact has in communication.
Making eye contact (or not) is like a green “go” light or a red “stop” light that we send out through our body language.
If you’re talking and someone isn’t looking at you, it can feel like your cue to shut up as they don’t seem interested or engaged.
When we make clear eye contact on the other hand it is often read as an invitation to connect.
As explained by the BBC:
“A recent study found that mutual gaze leads to a kind of partial melding of the self and other: we rate strangers with whom we’ve made eye contact as more similar to us, in terms of their personality and appearance. Perhaps, in the right context, when everyone else is busy talking to other people, this effect adds to the sense that you and the person looking back at you are sharing a special moment.”
So, what if you don’t want to share a moment?
People who don’t want to connect and prefer to keep themselves to themselves may use the avoidance of eye contact to let it be known that they’re closed for business.
7) They’re respectful
It’s important to remember that culture plays a big part in how we intercept and use eye contact.
Averting someone’s eye can be a sign of humility to some people whilst others see it as a sign of disrespect.
Generally in the West, we see eye contact as a positive thing and associate it with positive qualities within someone. But in the East, it’s not always seen in the same light.
For example, certain cultures discourage women from making eye contact with men as a display of modesty.
Meanwhile, a 2015 study highlighted that in some countries it is viewed as a sign of respect to purposefully avoid eye contact:
“While maintaining eye contact is positively evaluated by Western Europeans, it is not the case with people of East Asian cultural backgrounds. In fact, in Japanese culture, people are taught not to maintain eye contact with others because too much eye contact is often considered disrespectful. For example, Japanese children are taught to look at others’ necks because this way, the others’ eyes still fall into their peripheral vision.”
8) They’re thoughtful
I don’t mean thoughtful in the sense of being kind or considerate. I mean they are pensive and spend a lot of time deep in thought.
Remember how we said earlier that making eye contact can impact the brain and affect memory?
Well, that’s not very convenient when you’re trying to think.
It’s the reason why most of us whenever we’re speaking will struggle to keep constant eye contact with someone.
Essentially, it’s tricky to concentrate and make eye contact at the same time.
Eye contact is incredibly complex
It’s not always possible to make clear-cut assumptions about why someone withholds their gaze from you. It’s always going to depend on both the context as well as someone’s personality.
More often than not, it’s a sign of our discomfort. Either at someone in particular or with a certain situation.
Rather than take it personally, it’s best to try to make the person feel as at ease as possible and not to draw attention to it.