Why Do Some People Not Look People in the Eye?

Avoiding eye contact during communication can have multiple explanations. We'll gather some of them and reflect on them here.
Why Do Some People Not Look People in the Eye?

Last update: 06 June, 2022

When communicating with someone, what we actually say is just as important as what we do with our hands, facial expressions, and movements. In fact, it’s been said that gestures make up to 65% of the communicative process. In spite of this, you’ve surely met people who don’t look other people in the eye when speaking. Why is this?

In this article, we’ll seek to explain this, and we’ll do it based on scientific explanations that explain why some people don’t look others in the eye. Of course, it’s important to avoid overgeneralizations and assumptions, such as assuming that the person is in love with you or feels remorse for something he or she did. If this is a frequent occurrence, it’s likely that some underlying condition is causing the person to be unable to make eye contact.

Reasons why people don’t look others in the eye when talking

Before we introduce you to the reasons why some people don’t look other people in the eye when talking, we must warn you something: there won’t always be a condition that explains this habit. In reality, there are some people who simply don’t make eye contact out of preference or even because this interrupts the process of communication.

In this regard, an article published in Cognition in 2016 points out that eye contact can interrupt certain cognitive processes during conversation. Some people may have this mechanism more sensitive, so they’ll prefer to look at the floor, their hands, or into the void in order to concentrate on what they’re saying and what they’re listening to.

Apart from this, there are other conditions that explain why people don’t look others in the eye. In this article, we’ve gathered 5 of the most important ones and will explain what lies behind them.

1. Social anxiety disorder

Las personas que no miran a los ojos pueden padecer de fobia social
It’s possible to identify a person with social phobia by talking to them. What they do with their gaze is also very characteristic.

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social anxiety, is described as the irrational fear of being afraid of the world. On the other hand, a social phobia refers to the irrational fear that occurs in someone in a certain context. In this sense, speaking in public, sharing space with many people, and dealing with strangers, for example, can become an unbearable situation if someone has a social phobia.

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According to researchers, up to 6.5% of the population suffers from social phobia, so it’s a very common disorder. It goes beyond shyness, as it manifests itself chronically. The whole life of the affected person is often turned upside down, so that their work, friendships, studies, and leisure time are often compromised.

However, this disorder develops differently in different people, although avoiding eye contact is one of the classic symptoms. Let’s take a look at other signs of social phobia:

  • Rigid body posture during communication
  • Talking in a very soft voice
  • Sweating, trembling, and reddening
  • Tachycardia
  • Frightened attitude (especially in front of strangers)
  • The uncontrollable need to avoid places where there are many people

These are just some of the symptoms of such a disorder, so it’s usually not something that can go unnoticed. It’s so intense at times that people may even miss work, drop out of school and completely isolate themselves from society.

2. Not looking people in the eye: Asperger’s Syndrome

This is one of the conditions that make up autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In general terms, it affects the ability to socialize and communicate with others.

Studies indicate that up to 87% of people with this syndrome avoid eye contact. They consider it unnecessary, as well as annoying and forced. On the other hand, they sometimes simply don’t know that they have to make eye contact.

Other aspects of communication that are affected by Asperger syndrome are facial expressions, body posture, and the use of hands to accompany speech. Thus, their communication may also appear robotic, standardized, and even coded.

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3. Shyness

In tune with social phobia is shyness. Not every shy person suffers from social phobia, however, which is something that should be taken into account beforehand. However, they do share some traits that develop to a lesser degree. This is not a unique or general attitude either but manifests itself differently in each person.

This is why some experts have proposed the following classification: shy-sociable, shy-unsociable, not very shy-sociable, and not very shy-unsociable. A symptom that all share to a greater or lesser extent is the deviation of their gaze, even to the point of no eye contact when talking to other people.

In itself, shyness is not a disorder, although it can compromise a person’ssocial interactions. It can also evolve into episodes of anxiety or depression, so it’s recommended to seek professional help to overcome shyness, and thus prevent these and other sequelae.

4. Not looking people in the eye: Low self-esteem

Look people in the eye
A poor or low self-perception can affect the way in which a person relates to others. This includes the simple fact of averting one’s gaze when conversing.

Another possible explanation for why people do not look people in the eye is low self-esteem. This refers to the set of negative perceptions, feelings, and thoughts about oneself. There are many ways in which low self-esteem manifests itself in a person, some of which are evident in the communication process.

For example, some signs include speaking in a very low voice, being afraid to express or defend opinions or points of view, feeling uncomfortable in large groups, and, of course, avoiding eye contact. Those suffering from low self-esteem fear being judged at all times, so they will try to go unnoticed in any way possible.

5. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Finally, it’s also likely that people who don’t look into others’ eyes suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This is a chronic condition that has multiple manifestations, which begin in childhood and can extend into adulthood.

A variety of elements combine to make these people avoid eye contact. For example, it’s often difficult for them to do homework, they tend to be easily distracted, some activities make them restless and they’re unable to carry out orders or commands.

There’s not always a reason

Keep in mind what we mentioned at the beginning: sometimes there’s no objective reason for this behavior. Some prefer to focus on their ideas and thoughts when speaking so as not to lose the thread of what they’re saying. This may lead them to neglect gestural language, including making or not making eye contact.

And of course, many other conditions can explain the fact that people avoid making eye contact during communication. In fact, there are even transitory situations, such as distraction due to worry, insecurity, and fatigue, that can explain this.

Fortunately, all the above situations can be addressed and the person can learn interaction skills and perform better during communication. That way, normative social relationships can be established.

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  • Cheek, J. M., & Buss, A. H. Shyness and sociability. Journal of personality and social psychology. 1981; 41(2): 330.
  • Faravelli, C., Zucchi, T., Viviani, B., Salmoria, R., Perone, A., Paionni, A., … & Abrardi, L. Epidemiology of social phobia: a clinical approach. European Psychiatry. 2000; 15(1): 17-24.
  • Kajimura, S., & Nomura, M. When we cannot speak: Eye contact disrupts resources available to cognitive control processes during verb generation. Cognition. 2016; 157: 352-357.
  • Roy, M., & Wolfgang, D. Eye contact in adult patients with Asperger syndrome. Fortschritte der Neurologie-psychiatrie. 2015; 83(5): 269-275.

The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.