How do I know if I am overdoing eye contact?

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peapod671
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30 Jun 2015, 5:16 pm

I do have a problem with eye contact - it feels unnatural and uncomfortable but I force myself to do it because I know I should. If I am with anyone other than close family I feel that I have to keep the eye contact going - I just can't seem to glance away then back again. I don't know how long to look away for or where to look - that is what you're supposed to do isn't it?

So I get the feeling that I must have a very fixed stare - how do I know if it is making someone uncomfortable?



gaz34
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01 Jul 2015, 11:24 am

I used do this long before I knew I had autism. I would say don't worry about it. Unless you're big and mean looking nobody's going to mind too much.



SocOfAutism
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01 Jul 2015, 11:53 am

I disagree. I'm NT, I have a lot of autistic friends, family and mentors, and I study both autism and symbolic interactionism, which are small social actions and what they mean.

Staring usually means you're sexually attracted to someone or you're threatening them. You probably aren't meaning to put off either signal, so it's good to get yourself in a comfortable space with eye contact.

I would not sustain eye contact for more than 1 second, unless someone is talking, then no more than 2 seconds. After that, look to something to the right or left of them as you move your eyebrows or mouth (or both) to indicate a reaction to what they're saying. If you're walking down a hall toward another person and make eye contact, you can look at their eyes for 1 second, smile without showing teeth for 1 or 2 seconds as you look away to the right or left. You can look at people's eyes periodically if it's during a long conversation, but again, no more than 1 or 2 seconds.

This is actually pretty important, easier to learn than it might seem, and I have heard quite a relief once you get a routine going and you get used to it.



Waterfalls
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01 Jul 2015, 12:06 pm

I don't think it's a relief to have to work at it.

I agree though that it's important to look away periodically so people don't feel uncomfortable or even threatened.

But for it to be a relief implies it becomes easy or natural and I've not found that ever happens.



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01 Jul 2015, 7:49 pm

I remember reading some research results which said that people will as a general rule make eye contact about 60% of the time. Also people apparently mainly look away while talking, and look at the other person while listening.
I'v kept to those rules and its worked for me.



Rocket123
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01 Jul 2015, 10:17 pm

SocOfAutism wrote:
I would not sustain eye contact for more than 1 second, unless someone is talking, then no more than 2 seconds.

SocOfAutism - These "rules" are fascinating. Regarding the above rule, is this when the other person is talking? Or when you are talking? Or both.

Generally, I have a hard time looking in the direction of the other person when I am talking. Unless, I don't need to think about what I have to say (e.g. at work, when I have all the information already in my head).

SocOfAutism wrote:
After that, look to something to the right or left of them as you move your eyebrows or mouth (or both) to indicate a reaction to what they're saying.

Is this something you consciously do? Or does this happen naturally for you? Also, how do you know that the other person actually notices your response?

SocOfAutism wrote:
If you're walking down a hall toward another person and make eye contact, you can look at their eyes for 1 second, smile without showing teeth for 1 or 2 seconds as you look away to the right or left.

Why is smiling without showing teeth important? What's wrong with showing teeth?



SocOfAutism
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05 Jul 2015, 10:25 am

Rocket123 wrote:
SocOfAutism wrote:
I would not sustain eye contact for more than 1 second, unless someone is talking, then no more than 2 seconds.

SocOfAutism - These "rules" are fascinating. Regarding the above rule, is this when the other person is talking? Or when you are talking? Or both.

Generally, I have a hard time looking in the direction of the other person when I am talking. Unless, I don't need to think about what I have to say (e.g. at work, when I have all the information already in my head).

SocOfAutism wrote:
After that, look to something to the right or left of them as you move your eyebrows or mouth (or both) to indicate a reaction to what they're saying.

Is this something you consciously do? Or does this happen naturally for you? Also, how do you know that the other person actually notices your response?

SocOfAutism wrote:
If you're walking down a hall toward another person and make eye contact, you can look at their eyes for 1 second, smile without showing teeth for 1 or 2 seconds as you look away to the right or left.

Why is smiling without showing teeth important? What's wrong with showing teeth?


Oh, they're not hard and fast "rules." I have a very expressive face and I'm also better at reading people than most NT people. I study symbolic interactionism and autism via sociology. What I'm saying about the seconds and looking away, that's just what people do. It's like when you first learn to drive you might start by trying to line up something on the car with the road, but after awhile you don't think about it because you have a sense for when you're in your lane. Non-autistic people have a sense for looking at faces appropriately, and I would wager that with time and practice, autistic people do too.

No, the rules for talking are different and much more involved. This is for seeing someone in public. You know the other person has accepted what we call your "performative acts" (you are performing being normal) because their performative acts should match yours. They should glance at you, maybe a slight smile, look away. If you have made a "social failure" (done something weird) they might stare at you, laugh, look angry, or refuse to look at you. Mostly likely they will stare or refuse to look at you.

If you show teeth when you smile...this might be accepted as normal, especially if you are a woman. I think there would be an expectation that you would be about to say something. They might say hello to you if you smile showing teeth and then you would be expected to say hello back. You would both keep walking or doing whatever you were doing. If you stopped, then you would have to have a conversation. You can see how this gets messy.

Let's say I am passing you, we are both heterosexual women so there is no romance inferred, and we are strangers. We're walking past each other, the glance eye contact happens, you smile with your mouth closed and I smile with my teeth showing and stop walking in front of you. What would happen? Would you expect me to start talking and tell you want I want? Maybe I think I know you. Maybe I am trying to sell you something. Maybe I am lost and need directions. What if I don't say anything? It's interesting isn't it? It is to me anyway.

If you want to read about this kind of thing it comes from Erving Goffman. I would start with The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. And then I would read Stigma.



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05 Jul 2015, 3:45 pm

SocOfAutism wrote:
Non-autistic people have a sense for looking at faces appropriately, and I would wager that with time and practice, autistic people do too.

I suspect that I do not have a “sense for looking at faces appropriately”. Generally, when I look at others, I tend to focus first on the mouth. While I could be wrong, I presume that the other person doesn’t notice (assuming I am far enough away). The mouth is not a bad place to focus on, as minimally I can detect a smile.

SocOfAutism wrote:
No, the rules for talking are different and much more involved. This is for seeing someone in public. You know the other person has accepted what we call your "performative acts" (you are performing being normal) because their performative acts should match yours. They should glance at you, maybe a slight smile, look away. If you have made a "social failure" (done something weird) they might stare at you, laugh, look angry, or refuse to look at you. Mostly likely they will stare or refuse to look at you.

I am not certain I fully understand this.

SocOfAutism wrote:
If you show teeth when you smile...this might be accepted as normal, especially if you are a woman. I think there would be an expectation that you would be about to say something. They might say hello to you if you smile showing teeth and then you would be expected to say hello back. You would both keep walking or doing whatever you were doing. If you stopped, then you would have to have a conversation. You can see how this gets messy.

Interesting. I am fairly certain that, when I smile, I always show teeth. This is something I learned quite young (e.g. when taking a picture, you “smile and say cheese”).

Fortunately, I have that part down (about saying “hello” back). It’s automatic. Unfortunately, I am not really good at ad hoc conversation. So, I avoid talking to others. Unless, I have a question (and am seeking to exchange information). I am pretty good at that (exchanging information).

SocOfAutism wrote:
Let's say I am passing you, we are both heterosexual women so there is no romance inferred, and we are strangers. We're walking past each other, the glance eye contact happens, you smile with your mouth closed and I smile with my teeth showing and stop walking in front of you. What would happen? Would you expect me to start talking and tell you want I want? Maybe I think I know you. Maybe I am trying to sell you something. Maybe I am lost and need directions. What if I don't say anything? It's interesting isn't it? It is to me anyway.

Ordinarily, I don’t make eye contact with people I am passing on the street. As I try to focus on where I am walking. The only exception would be when I see a very attractive woman. Though, if I see an attractive woman and make eye contact, I immediately look away. As I have no intention of conversing with this person (because I would have no clue what to say). Generally, I like to look (stare?) at beautiful things (this could be buildings, nature, and yes, woman). And, typically this would only be from afar (i.e. not if they were in close proximity to me). If they smile at me, I might smile back and then turn away.

If someone were to walk by me and stop (alongside my walking path), I would expect them to ask me something. If they didn’t, I would probably continue walking.

SocOfAutism wrote:
If you want to read about this kind of thing it comes from Erving Goffman. I would start with The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. And then I would read Stigma.

This sounds fascinating. I will definitely buy this book.



SocOfAutism
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05 Jul 2015, 7:33 pm

Waterfalls wrote:
I don't think it's a relief to have to work at it.

I agree though that it's important to look away periodically so people don't feel uncomfortable or even threatened.

But for it to be a relief implies it becomes easy or natural and I've not found that ever happens.


You're right, "relief" isn't the right word. I was thinking of a friend of mine who told me that when she was a child people would try to force her to look at their eyes and it made her cry. She said over time she learned to tolerate it and it wasn't so bad now. She could "pass" as non-autistic by the time I met her in her early twenties and she was very attractive. I think maybe that's why she had a harder time being looked at and being forced to look at other people.

Shoggothgoat wrote:
I remember reading some research results which said that people will as a general rule make eye contact about 60% of the time. Also people apparently mainly look away while talking, and look at the other person while listening.
I'v kept to those rules and its worked for me.


I think this is correct. And Goat Simulator is a great game.

Rocket123 wrote:
SocOfAutism wrote:
Non-autistic people have a sense for looking at faces appropriately, and I would wager that with time and practice, autistic people do too.

I suspect that I do not have a “sense for looking at faces appropriately”. Generally, when I look at others, I tend to focus first on the mouth. While I could be wrong, I presume that the other person doesn’t notice (assuming I am far enough away). The mouth is not a bad place to focus on, as minimally I can detect a smile.

In eye tracking studies, ALL people (both NTs and ASDs) look at the eyes and the mouths predominantly during social interaction. You may feel awkward, but what you're doing is normal. You would be abnormal if you looked only at a person's ears or you walked up to the back of their head and spoke to their hair.
Rocket123 wrote:
SocOfAutism wrote:
No, the rules for talking are different and much more involved. This is for seeing someone in public. You know the other person has accepted what we call your "performative acts" (you are performing being normal) because their performative acts should match yours. They should glance at you, maybe a slight smile, look away. If you have made a "social failure" (done something weird) they might stare at you, laugh, look angry, or refuse to look at you. Mostly likely they will stare or refuse to look at you.

I am not certain I fully understand this.

If your social actions were not normal, the way you would know is from the reaction of the other person. Everyone you tried to pass by would appear not to see you, or would look at you with hate, as if they were about to strike you. They might stare at you with visible disgust. Screwing up their faces as if they saw a dead body or rotten food. It would be an reaction you could not mistake whether you be NT, autistic, a monkey, a dog, or a cat. The vast majority of autistic people act normal, although they probably do not feel they are acting normal.
Rocket123 wrote:
SocOfAutism wrote:
Let's say I am passing you, we are both heterosexual women so there is no romance inferred, and we are strangers. We're walking past each other, the glance eye contact happens, you smile with your mouth closed and I smile with my teeth showing and stop walking in front of you. What would happen? Would you expect me to start talking and tell you want I want? Maybe I think I know you. Maybe I am trying to sell you something. Maybe I am lost and need directions. What if I don't say anything? It's interesting isn't it? It is to me anyway.

Ordinarily, I don’t make eye contact with people I am passing on the street. As I try to focus on where I am walking. The only exception would be when I see a very attractive woman. Though, if I see an attractive woman and make eye contact, I immediately look away. As I have no intention of conversing with this person (because I would have no clue what to say). Generally, I like to look (stare?) at beautiful things (this could be buildings, nature, and yes, woman). And, typically this would only be from afar (i.e. not if they were in close proximity to me). If they smile at me, I might smile back and then turn away.

If someone were to walk by me and stop (alongside my walking path), I would expect them to ask me something. If they didn’t, I would probably continue walking.

What you are describing sounds normal, and what most men do (you're a man, right?). This is where it gets interesting again, and why I specifically gave the example of two hetero women. There are different interactions between straight women and men (those assumed to be straight anyway) and it gets even more complicated if one party is not straight. And also, like you said, it would be different if you saw a woman who was not attractive, right? And perhaps if she were TOO attractive, you also might refrain from drawing attention to yourself.

These are very fine nuances of social behavior. It's no wonder some people feel overwhelmed. But really, I don't think people give themselves enough credit. Look at all the split second decisions we make when we perform social actions. If we did a small something wrong, like forget to pull up our pants, or walk down the street making a biting motion at every person we saw, just think of the trouble we'd be in.



peapod671
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07 Jul 2015, 7:00 pm

Thank you for the replies. I will try to put some of this advice into practice as I am now pretty certain that I don't break eye contact nearly enough.

It's draining having to think hard about something that should just come naturally when I have a tough enough time just trying to concentrate on what the other person is saying :(