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Why is it sometimes hard to look someone in the eye?

Why is it sometimes hard to look someone in the eye?

October 3, 2022

Looking someone in the eye during a dialogue is essential . Then it is very noticeable when someone is avoiding the look of his interlocutor, and in these cases it is assumed that maintaining visual contact with someone is uncomfortable, either because of shyness or because at that moment it hides something.

It is true that people who are very shy or with social phobia can have many difficulties to look into the eyes of a relative stranger (and in the case of the latter, they can become totally incapable of that). The same goes for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

However, in certain situations people who do not meet these characteristics may also come to realize that it is difficult for them to look directly at each other's pupils. What is this about?

When maintaining eye contact costs

It has usually been assumed that avoiding someone's eyes is a sign of insecurity . The idea was that it is an unconscious and non-voluntary action that expresses a fear of being discovered.

It is not a crazy explanation, after all, the face is the part of our body in which our emotions are expressed more and better, and fear is one of them. The area of ​​the eyes, in particular, is especially expressive, because it is surrounded by very sensitive small muscles that react to any reaction of our limbic system, the part of the brain most related to feelings.

Further, a person's eyes tell us where attention is going . They can literally tell us the address of the next physical element that you are observing, and it can also reveal when you are concentrating on your memories or mental operations that you are performing.

For example, when someone is improvising an excuse, they are more likely to keep their gaze lost for longer than normal and the trajectory of their look seems erratic and with a somewhat chaotic movement.

With the passage of time, people learn that we can know a lot about the mental state of the other by looking into their eyes, but we also come to the conclusion that the same principle can be applied in us. Because, Without us noticing, we learn that the nerves and the action of looking someone in the eye is a bad combination , because it can give us away.

Looking away in cases of shyness

When you are a shy person or you have social phobia, what you want to hide is, precisely, your own insecurities, which we spontaneously associate with "the bad". In this way, even if we are not lying or covering up important information, if we are shy we will learn to look away as a strategy so as not to give too many clues about our mental life.

But the anxiety that comes from being aware of this strategy in turn produces more nervousness and stress, which gives more reasons not to look someone in the eye , thus creating a situation of type "fish that bites its tail". Every time there are more reasons to try that the other person does not know what goes through our mind.

In this way, it can be said that looking away is a strategy that starts from irrationality and that, in practice, is very unhelpful and even counterproductive. Unfortunately, being aware of this fact does not improve things, since it is something that is partly beyond our control.

A new explanation about the inability to look into the eyes

The explanation that we have just seen is based on the learning and the feelings that cause us to believe that we must prevent the other from knowing something that we do know. However, recently it has come to another explanation that does not contradict the previous one, but complements it.

In a study conducted at the University of Tokyo, a number of volunteers were recruited and they were asked to perform a word association task. The funny thing was that When performing this task by staring into the eyes of a person whose photograph was projected before them, their performance fell significantly, despite not knowing these people about anything or having to interact with them beyond keeping their eyes fixed.

This investigation could be an indication that the simple fact of looking someone in the eye is, in itself, an activity that requires a good part of our brain to concentrate on it. We may be predisposed to use many of the resources of our nervous system to process information from each other's face, and there are times when doing so renders us incapable of doing other things; Keep a conversation complicated or based on reflection, for example.

That is, we would not avoid the other's gaze so much to hide directly our small expressive movements, but we would do it to prevent a large part of our focus from being "hooked" in his eyes, leaving us without the ability to do other operations mental

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