So it isn’t just autistic people who can have issues with eye contact.

Neurotypicals, too, have been known to struggle with eye contact, but why?

As an autistic woman, I was inspired to write about why a non-autistic individual might find eye contact challenging after seeing a news segment on Gen Z’ers bringing their parents along on job interviews.

The story included a mention that some Gen Z’ers might be confused over how to give eye contact.

There are also plenty of YouTube videos about the “rules” of eye contact or how to improve it, and certainly, all the views can’t be from autistic people.

I’d also be lying if I said that eye contact wasn’t a special interest of mine!

Eye contact is a fundamental aspect of human interaction, playing a crucial role in communication, social bonding and the conveyance of emotions and intentions.

While neurotypicals (those without autism, ADHD or another neurodivergent condition typically find eye contact to be a natural and often a subconscious or intuitive behavior, there are several circumstances under which they may struggle with maintaining or engaging in eye contact.

In no particular order, here are seven reason neurotypical people may have issues with eye contact.

Social Anxiety and Shyness


One of the primary reasons neurotypicals (NTs) may struggle with eye contact is social anxiety.

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by a profound fear of social situations where an individual might believe they are being scrutinized or judged by others.

For those with social anxiety, eye contact can feel particularly intimidating because it creates a sense of vulnerability and exposure.

Even without a clinical diagnosis, many neurotypicals experience shyness or discomfort in social situations, especially when meeting new people or speaking in public.

This discomfort can manifest as difficulty maintaining eye contact, as individuals may feel self-conscious or fear that they are being judged.

Cultural Differences

©Lorra Garrick

Cultural norms and expectations play a significant role in eye contact behavior.

What’s considered appropriate eye contact in one culture may be seen as rude or confrontational in another.

For instance, in many Western cultures, direct eye contact is often interpreted as a sign of confidence and attentiveness.

Conversely, in some Asian, African and Middle Eastern cultures, prolonged eye contact can be seen as disrespectful or aggressive, particularly towards authority figures or elders.

Neurotypicals may struggle with eye contact when interacting with individuals from different cultural backgrounds, as they navigate these differing expectations and try to avoid causing offense.

Psychological States and Emotions

©Lorra Garrick

Various psychological states and emotions can also impact eye contact.

When neurotypicals experience emotions such as guilt, shame, embarrassmen, or sadness, they may find it difficult to look others in the eye.

For example, someone who feels ashamed of their actions may avoid eye contact to escape perceived judgment or disapproval.

Similarly, intense emotions like anger or distress can lead to avoidance of eye contact as a means of self-protection or as an attempt to control overwhelming feelings.

In contrast, feelings of love, affection or empathy can enhance eye contact, highlighting its role as an emotional barometer in interpersonal relationships.

Ironically, it’s no secret that some people – presumably many NT – struggle to hold eye contact or even give it briefly to someone they have a big crush on.

Power Dynamics and Hierarchical Situations


Power dynamics and hierarchical structures within social or professional settings can influence eye contact.

In interactions where there is a clear power differential, such as between a boss and an employee or a teacher and a student, neurotypicals may struggle with eye contact due to feelings of inferiority or intimidation.

Subordinates may avoid making direct eye contact to show deference or respect, while those in positions of authority might use eye contact strategically to assert dominance or control.

This dynamic can be particularly pronounced in high-stakes situations, such as job interviews or performance reviews, where the pressure to make a positive impression can exacerbate difficulties with eye contact.

Situational Contexts and Cognitive Load

The context in which an interaction occurs can significantly affect eye contact.

Situations that demand high cognitive load or multitasking can lead to reduced eye contact as individuals focus their attention on the task at hand rather than on social cues.

For example, during complex problem-solving or when giving a detailed explanation, a person might look away to concentrate better.

Similarly, in situations that require careful observation or listening, such as watching a presentation or attending a lecture, eye contact with the speaker might be intermittent.

Additionally, the physical environment, such as lighting, noise levels and the presence of distractions, can influence the ease with which neurotypicals maintain eye contact.

Personal Boundaries and Comfort Levels

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Personal boundaries and comfort levels with physical and emotional intimacy can also affect eye contact.

Some neurotypicals may simply prefer less eye contact due to personal preferences or a need for greater personal space.

This can be especially true in cultures or families where less direct eye contact is the norm.

Those with a heightened need for personal space might find prolonged eye contact intrusive or overwhelming, leading to avoidance.

Furthermore, past experiences, such as trauma or negative interactions, can shape one’s comfort with eye contact, influencing their willingness to engage in direct visual communication.

The Role of Technology

The increasing use of technology in communication has also impacted eye contact behaviors.

Virtual interactions via video calls, social media and other digital platforms present unique challenges for maintaining eye contact.

On video calls, the position of the camera relative to the screen can make it difficult to achieve natural eye contact, often resulting in a slightly off-center gaze.

Additionally, the lack of physical presence and the tendency to multitask during virtual meetings can reduce the frequency and quality of eye contact.

Neurotypicals may struggle with adapting to these changes, balancing the demands of digital communication with the natural inclination for face-to-face interaction.

Final Note

Just like there are neurotypicals who may, for any of the aforementioned reasons, give less eye contact than what’s considered the norm for their culture, there are also autistic people who give more eye contact than what would be expected.

In fact, some autistic people have what would be considered normal eye contact.

However, it may not feel natural to them. It may even feel awkward or like a chore or formality. Nevertheless, they know how to execute it.

I’ve also met people on the Spectrum who told me that they’ve never had any issues with eye contact.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder. 


Top image: ©Lorra Garrick