People avoid eye contact for many different reasons, including anxiety, cultural differences, low self-esteem or busy thinking. Although direct eye contact is a common practice, it is important to consider the reasons that might cause someone to avoid making eye contact.
Social anxiety is a common reason for avoiding eye contact. Those who suffer from social anxiety may avoid eye contact due to a fear of communication and the potential of social embarrassment. Individuals with social anxiety may also avoid eye contact out of fear that their own gaze makes others uncomfortable.
Cultural differences may also account for a lack of eye contact. While eye contact is commonly seen as a sign of respect in Western culture, it can convey a lack of respect in other societies. Many Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Native American and Asian cultures view direct eye contact as disrespectful.
Others may avoid eye contact out of low self-esteem. Eye contact is commonly perceived as an indicator of assertiveness or social confidence, and those who feel they lack these qualities may find it difficult to maintain consistent eye contact.
Finally, individuals who avoid eye contact may simply be thinking intently. Maintaining consistent eye contact takes a degree of mental effort, and some individuals may break eye contact in order to concentrate more fully on the conversation at hand.
A professor at a Scotland university conducted a question-and-answer study among children. He found that those maintaining eye contact came up with the correct answer less often than those who looked away to consider their reply. He believes that as a socializing mechanism, eye contact detracts from the mental energy that is used to determine and identify a solution to a task.
During infancy, contact between mother and baby establishes an attachment bond that feels safe and secure. As children, however, parents may demand direct eye contact to detect lies, which may threaten the security established earlier. However, as humans develop during adulthood, direct eye contact is a way to connect intimately with potential love interests. When direct eye contact is used to challenge another, it is threatening and frightening. For those who suffer from guilt, shame and other disorders, they may feel that eye contact allows others to see their perceived shortcomings, and they avoid eye contact for fear of rejection.