Eyes are the window to the soul, they say.

That makes sense, because when you lock eyes with someone, it can be an emotionally powerful moment.

When a newborn makes eye contact with its mother, it’s looking for love and care. When an ultimate fighter makes eye contact with his opponent inside the cage, he is looking to intimidate and scare.

Eye contact is an important part of animal behavior. Even with smaller animals like cats and dogs, if you look at them, they will look back and maintain eye contact if you do too.

Eye Contact with People

There are many times when eye contact is part of social norms in our society:

  • when you greet or meet someone
  • when someone is talking to you
  • flirting

When You Greet or Meet Someone

When you greet and meet people, you will undoubtedly use eye contact. Whether it’s a handshake, a hug, a “hi”, a bow, a high-five, or a fist bump, part of the meet and greet process is exchange eye contact. And maybe a small social smile too to let the other person know you are friendly.

Many parents teach their children how to do a proper introduction. Eye contact, firm handshake, and something along the lines of “my name is ____, pleasure to meet you.” That is how socially-adept children go into early adulthood with confidence with social situations.

When Someone is Talking to You

Continuing on with the previous example, after you’ve been introduced to someone, there will probably be many general questions you’ll be asking to build a little rapport and gain general information about the other person (this is Small Talk).

During this time, it’s important to keep eye contact, even if they look away, if they are talking, keeping eye contact shows you are listening, thus it’s actually a sign of respect. (Side note: breaking eye contact and then checking your phone, even if you are still listening, is seen as an incredibly disrespectful act).

Interestingly enough, the speaker themselves may not be all that interested in talking with you, so they might scan the room for someone they know or to find someone more interesting to talk to. This is normal, so be aware of it.


Flirting is a primal instinct that encourages us to mate. In fact, out in the wild somewhere, there are probably two gazelles locking eye contact right now and getting ready to make baby gazelles. We share that same instinct with those gazelles and many other animals too. Only, for us, there will be a lot more communication and talking involved, because that is the nature of our species (hence, the importance of sites like this).

In flirting, eye contact is an indicator of interest. Much like how you may have looked at candy when you were a little kid, you will be finding yourself wanting to look at people you find attractive. This is natural, though prolonged and unwelcome eye contact can become inappropriate, “creepy,” invasive, and indicating you may have poor social calibration.

In a social setting, like a bar or a party, certain socially forward actions are more expected or welcome. The rule of eye contact is that you should glance a bit at people you find attractive. If you catch eye contact, one of you will look away. Momentarily after, if you find yourself locking eye contact again, that is a good sign that you two have a mutual, physical attraction. And from there, hopefully one of you approaches the other and starts a conversation.

Amazing isn’t it? In a world of professional matchmakers, dating apps, and Tinder, we realize that our species has only come this far to due a built-in mechanism which helps two people find a match in 10 seconds.

What It Means When You Avoid Eye Contact

Now let’s imagine you avoid eye contact during important social interactions. Can you imagine what the other person feels or thinks?

If you avoid eye contact when you greet or meet someone… 

… you are undoubtedly a weird person. If you are young, you probably are socially awkward. If you are older, you definitely are socially awkward and may have a personality disorder or social anxiety.

If you avoid eye contact when someone is talking to you…

… you are bored and uninterested in what they have to say.

If you avoid eye contact when flirting…

… you do not want to flirt. You don’t notice the person or are not interested in them.

If you are reading this article, undoubtedly the above are the opposite of how you want people to feel about you or think of you. You want to be appear warm, inviting, and most of all, a functional social being. That’s why you need eye contact.

Cultural Differences

This article has been predominately for an American society. There are many societies where eye contact is used differently, but is still an important part of their social norms. If you are from another culture (or time), be careful to not do anything that would violate your own culture’s social norms.