Eye Contact: Overrated and Misunderstood?

There is a huge misconception that if a person doesn’t look someone else in the eyes, it means that that person is not being honest or trustworthy.   There is nothing inherent about looking someone in the eye that indicates honesty.  Different cultures have different norms and social morays.

People from countries such as China and Peru do not normally look people in the eyes as part of their culture.  So for people to assume that when people don’t look them in the eyes, they are telling lies, that is obviously not always the case.

Another case in which this old belief doesn’t hold true is for people with autism.  For a variety of reasons – looking someone in the eyes can be too much stimuli or too overwhelming, listening and looking at the same time may be too hard because of sensory overload, or social skills such as understanding what people do in a particular culture may not come naturally – people with autism often have a hard time looking others in the eyes.  Here’s one explanation of how some people with autism comprehend spoken language: http://www.aspieweb.net/video-why-autistic-people-dont-look-into-eyes.

If you want to find out if someone is telling the truth or not, go to www.lyintamer.com.  Janine Driver is one of the authorities on the subject.  Rather than use eye contact or whether someone touches his or her face as an indicator of truth, establish a norm for the person’s style of speaking and body language,and then see if the person talks or acts differently than they usually do.  That can be a better tipoff on honesty than whether a person is looking you in the eye or not.

In fact, the idea that there is a correlation between eye contact and “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert would say, has been around so long that those who wish to beat the system have used that as a way to say, “See, I’m telling you the truth.”  One time an ex-boss of mine looked me in the eyes nonstop without any breaks.  Instead of thinking he was telling me the truth because of the nonstop eye contact, I perceived it as him intending for me to perceive that he was telling the truth.  If anything, it is awkward to constantly look someone in the eye without any breaks.


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