What does "lack of eye contact" refers to?

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QFT
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10 Oct 2022, 4:30 am

When I was asking people who know me about my social skills problems, they mention from time to time lack of eye contact. Every time I hear it, my reaction is "of course I have eye contact when I talk to people; are they just making assumptions about me based on my Asperger as opposed to actually watching me?" I guess this sounds strange since one of the people that mentioned eye contact is my mother.

But still, from my perspective, if I didn't have eye contact i would know it. After all, aspies who have trouble with eye contact are saying they feel physically uncomfortable making one, to the point that they have to fake it by looking at the nose instead of the eyes. I don't feel physically uncomfortable. The only reason I wouldn't make an eye contact is if I find my own thoughts more interesting than what the person has to say (which I admit happens sometimes) but then I won't bother trying to fake it would I? If the conversation is interesting enough for me to pay attention, I won't have any trouble making an eye contact.

However, more recently I had a little more interesting conversation with regards to eye contact, that might point me to the answer I am looking for. So I teach at community college this semester, and one of my employers has a son on the spectrum. I asked her why don't people approach me. She mentioned eye contact. So I said "surely I make eye contact: I am making one now as I speak with you". But she said to me that I should also make eye contact with people even when I don't speak to them, when I simply pass them by. I told her I consider it socially inappropriate. From my point of view, I should make eye contact only when I speak to someone. Is this where I am mistaken?

So could it be that other aspies have physical issues making eye contact while in my case I don't understand social rules about it? Is this what it boils down to?

By the way, after she mentioned it to me, I did notice the following situations. So I was at church (obviously those are the people that don't know her but I am still the same person). And I wasn't speaking with anyone, I was just standing and looking around uncomfortable. When on occasion my eyes would meet someone else's eyes, I would quickly look away. My thoughts when I was looking away were "I better not be the first one to approach them, not even with the glance, I want them to approach me first". And, indeed, I did notice a few occasions when it seemed like they were responding to my glance and I was like "no, no, I didn't mean it" and looked away.

So could this be where the misunderstanding is? Because what I just described in the above paragraph would match a description of someone who feels physically uncomfortable with eye contact. But in my case its not physical discomfort its an emotional one. So if I were to get invited into a conversation I won't have said discomfort any more. But could it be that others don't get it?

Also, could it be that Asperger awarenness does me disservice? Because, back in the day when Asperger was unheard of, the behavior that I described in church would have been interpretted as shyness. What would people do when someone is shy? They would approach that person to make the person feel comfortable (which is exactly what I want them to do)! But nowdays they all blame it on Asperger (since they keep citing "eye contact" thing which makes it sound as if they just parrotted things from the dictionary) and so they are like "oh, QFT is uncomfortable with eye contact, lets avoid QFT for the purpose of his own comfort".

Or here is another similar example. People on the spectrum don't want to be touched. This doesn't apply to me. So there is that one church where after service they invite people to receive aaronic blessing where they would stand in groups of 2, 3 or 4 people, putting arms around each other. So once, an older lady walked up to me and said "it is really not good to stay alone at the time of the blessing, is it okay if I touch you" My answer was simple yes, so she went ahead and touched me. But what I thought to myself was "why did she decide I don't want to be touched? Did she get it by reading some books on autism spectrum? I didn't tell her I am on the spectrum, but I told some others, so did she hear of my diagnosis from them, and coupled it with a hearsay of what autistics are like?"

But then, on a different day, at that same church, I was talking to a gentleman asking him about why people don't approach me. He said that as of now he knows that I welcome him to talk to me, but before he got to know me, my body language was like "please don't touch me". And then when he used that phrase, something clicked in my mind: "could it be that the woman did NOT read the autism criteria but instead thats what my body language shows?" I know that the man said "don't touch me" in a figurative sense rather than literal (I was asking him why people don't talk to me, I wasn't asking him why they don't touch me). But the fact that he even used that figure of speech, kind of suggests that the lady's assumption might have been caused by my behavior rather than by what she read.

But then again, in the good old days before Asperger was publicized, people had that concept of "shyness". So maybe if they were to think of me as shy, then they "would" touch me to make me feel more comfortable. So I still think that the way people respond is due to the publicization of autism -- if not consciously, at least subconsciously.



r00tb33r
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10 Oct 2022, 4:49 am

Refers to very literal lack of eye contact. Meaning you don't look people in the eyes when you interact with them, speak, or listen. Instead focusing on their features or not at all.

It is often perceived as insincerity by NTs or otherwise discomfort with them.

In Tony Attwood's book he explained it as "one track mind", having mental capacity to focus on only one thing at a time. Here for example speaking or looking in the eyes/facial expression, but not both at the same time.


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10 Oct 2022, 5:12 am

Shyness comes off as not wanting to talk to people.

When you see a stranger in church you could just ask their name and tell them yours. It's not difficult to do in church and its something better than waiting for others to do something.



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10 Oct 2022, 5:53 am

Not keeping eye contact can be many different things. It's not just an Asperger/Autism thing. And people ask if they can touch you because it's actually rude to just touch others whom they don't know without permission. But many people don't realize that it's rude so they just touch you without asking even if they don't know you. Unless you are doing a recognized gesture of greeting like a handshake, it's not a good idea to just touch someone whom you have never met before. It's just rude.


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10 Oct 2022, 6:02 am

Aspergers is a neurological variant in which there is a faster, more complex, or more sensitive neurology. One of the first visual developmental stages for humans is a baby learning to recognize his mother's face.

There can be so much information given by slight changes in facial configuration (especially the eyes) that it can be overwhelming to process for the aspie.

Some of us reduce the flow of visual information by looking at someone in the chin or nose. often this is close enough to the eyes as to not cause people to object.



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10 Oct 2022, 6:43 am

r00tb33r wrote:
Refers to very literal lack of eye contact.


I know that. But the question is: what situation does it refer to? The situation when you talk to them or the situation when you don't?

My supervisor at community college surprised me when she said that I should make eye contact even when I don't talk to people (see 3-rd paragraph in OP)

r00tb33r wrote:
Meaning you don't look people in the eyes when you interact with them, speak, or listen.


Okay, so then, according to what you just said, it doesn't refer to the situations when I just pass them by. Yet, according to what she said, it does.

r00tb33r wrote:
Instead focusing on their features or not at all.


From what I read about other aspies, they focus on facial features as a deliberate attempt to avoid the discomfort of looking into eyes. That doesn't apply to me: I don't have discomfort of looking into eyes.

What *does* apply to me is that facial features are bigger in size than eyes. So, in order to lazer-focus on something small, such as eyes, the person needs to *really* captivate my attention. If what they are saying is super-interesting, I would look them into eyes. If it is somewhat interesting, I will look at their face. If it is not interesting at all, I won't look at all.

Could it be that what separates me from NT is that NTs like to pretend while I don't. So even if NT is not interested they will pretend that they are?

But then wouldn't NT pretending be similar concept to aspie masking?

Now, Asperger has two components: one is lack of social awarenness, the other is sensory problems. So maybe what separates me from other aspies is that I am dominated by the former, while other aspies are dominated by the latter. Thus, I don't have problem looking into eyes, but I don't look into eyes (when bored) since I don't have social awarenness that I should. On the other hand, other aspies are socially aware that they should look into eyes, but its hard for them due to their sensory problems, hence they come up with tricks such as looking into nose or whatever.

r00tb33r wrote:
It is often perceived as insincerity by NTs or otherwise discomfort with them.


What about other forms of shyness? Are they seen as insincere too?

At the Bible study there was a girl who seemed to compliment me on the thoughts that I had every chance she had. I suspected she was interested in me, but was too shy to reciprocate. Then at some point she stopped coming to Bible study. Then, three months later, I asked a guy as to whether or not I missed a chance with her. He said that his advice to me is to let it go, and then added that if I am not actively pursuing a woman, I should question my own intentions of wanting a woman. I then asked him why would shyness imply bad intentions. He said that, at least in his case, when he is hesitant it is usually because he quickly evaluates his own intentions and sees they are not good. I told him that, in my case, it has nothing to do with evaluating my own intentions but instead it has to do with being unsure of other people's reaction. Besides, I don't see a logical reason how self-evaluating my intentions would ever stop me: if I did have bad intentions, then why would I have a "good" side that would be stopping me? I don't have multiple personalities! But he didn't seem to get this point.

Now, this happened to be the guy whom I punched when I was upset about a different girl -- not the above one -- talking to someone else and not me (and no, the guy she talked to wasn't that guy; I simply used that guy as a punching bag). He even admitted that his response above was colored by that incident. However he interpretted that incident in an illogical way. Because he said that I might want to be with a woman "in order to treat her with anger". But that is illogical. I don't see how treating someone with anger can ever be a purpose of a relationship. Yes, I am prone to anger. But I don't have anger as my goal. I simply don't know how to resolve conflicts when they arize. For example, when I came to that dinner where I punched him, I didn't have it as my purpose to punch someone when I was coming over there. I came with an intention of having good time. When it didn't happen, I lost control and punched him. But it wasn't the original purpose.

But in any case, back to what you are saying about eye contact: you said lack of eye contact is seen as insincerity. And that guy interpretted my shyness around that girl as a sign of bad intentions. Could those two things be part of the same phenomenon? Could it be that NT-s when they show the signs of shyness its because they have bad intentions? Because I was thinking that guy attributed something pathological to me. But are you saying that what he attributed to me is not pathological at all but rather an NT way of doing things?

So the question is: when Tony Attword says that lack of eye contact comes off as insincerity, and when that guy said that my lack of pursuing a woman comes across as bad intentions, is it part of the same concept? Is this how NT-s roll that when they have bad intentions they get shy?

But remember, the word "shyness" doesn't stand for bad intentions. So if the above was true, then shyness would be an exclusively aspie phenomenon, and would have been unheard of back in the good old days. Yet shyness is known age-long, while autism isn't. So that means that there *are* NT-s that are just shy? But if so, why do they read shyness as bad intentions?

Going back to my lady supervisor: when I questioned her as to why I should make an eye contact with people I pass by even when I don't talk to them, she said that by the act of passing by them, I am walking into their environment (even if very briefly). So they want to evaluate whether I am "safe part of the environment" or "unsafe part of the environmet". If I were to make an eye contact, they would evaluate based on the kind of eye contact that I make. If I don't make eye contact, they don't know what to think.

Do I understand her point? I would say yes and no. The way in which I do understand her is by noticing how I myself would react if others were to look at me this way or another. The way in which I don't understand her, is I can't seem to see the logic behind it.

So I live in an unsafe area with a lot of homeless on the street and, understandably, I typically feel unsafe and cross the street. But I noticed one example (a couple of days after my conversation with her) when a homeless made eye contact with me and nodded. Then I felt safe and no longer needed to cross the street. Why? Because the way he did it made me intuitively feel like he wasn't going to do anything bad, at least not in the moment. Can I logically explain it? No. But thats how it felt.

On the other hand, there are plenty of other situations when homeless people look at me, and make me "More" scared rather than less. Why? Because they look at me in a way that they want something from me. Either they are about to ask me for money, or they are about to attack me. Well, up until now, it was asking me for money. But I still feel as if they can attack me. And the more they look at me that other way, the more unsafe I feel.

So I guess the above contrast illustrates her point that eye contact can communicate whether you are safe or unsafe part of the environment. But I don't see the logic behind it. In particular,

1) Despite the fact that I could read it in the above two examples, I can't actually spell out how I read it. And thus I can't reproduce it myself to make my own glance feel safe.

2) What would stop an unsafe person from deceiving people by giving a "safe" look?

Could the problem posed at "1" be the answer to the question in "2". As in, since nobody can articulate what constitutes safe or unsafe look, then nobody can give a deceptive look (with an exception of skilled sociopaths, which is an exception rather than the rule)? But then the question is

3) When an unsafe person is incapable of giving safe look due to the above, can you say that "being unsafe generates temporary Asperger"? Because thats what I always assumed was Asperger: when I really want to give a safe look yet can't. Yes I can look into the eyes (as I kept saying over and over) but I can't do so in a way that seems safe. And inability to look safe (as opposed to a choice) is how I used to define Asperger. But now you are saying that Asperger is "less common" reason for that inability, while "more common" reason is bad intentions. Is THAT why that guy thought I had bad intentions?

r00tb33r wrote:
In Tony Attwood's book he explained it as "one track mind", having mental capacity to focus on only one thing at a time. Here for example speaking or looking in the eyes/facial expression, but not both at the same time.


In my case I also have one-track-mind, but a different kind from what he described.

Focusing on both eyes and face is no problem.

What IS a problem is when someone says something complicated, so as I am thinking through that compicated concept, I am not really focusing on their face any more.

So if someone tells me a captivating story, they I will look into their eyes as I listen to their story.

But if someone presents me a complicated idea, then I will look away from their eyes as I am thinking about that idea.



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10 Oct 2022, 6:51 am

I don't know where she got the idea that people should make eye contact whenever they pass each other by. It might be helpful to do so in some situations, but not in others. Eye contact can be interpreted as hostility - the so-called "threat stare." I think the eye contact issue is overblown. It's possible to get by without rather less of it than some people believe, and I think it's one of these memes that people tend to swallow and pass on without giving it enough thought.



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10 Oct 2022, 6:56 am

lack of eye contact signals disinterest and comes off as rude because of that



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10 Oct 2022, 7:02 am

klanka wrote:
Shyness comes off as not wanting to talk to people.


But if you ask yourself what does the *word* shyness mean, it means that a person *does* want to talk, but is shy. So, if people were unaware that such situations exist, why would they invent a word for them?

Or could it be because that word was invented in pre-autism times. But now that the concept of autism is popuarized, they assume that you are autistic and thus, presumably, don't want to talk?

klanka wrote:
When you see a stranger in church you could just ask their name and tell them yours. It's not difficult to do in church and its something better than waiting for others to do something.


It might not be difficult when I think about it in front of the laptop screen, but it sure would be difficult in practice. Maybe its because *they* non-verbally communicate that they don't want to talk to me (perhaps by not making eye contact themselves). Which goes back to the fact that they assume bad things about me before they even know me.

And, besides, even if it wasn't difficult, the very fact that I have to approach them myself rather than them approaching me, would indicate that they don't really want to talk to me. So I won't feel validation that I am seeking. After all, the reason I want to talk is not because I am bored. Its because I want to use this to evaluate whether or not I am seen as a pariah. Well, if I approach them myself, then I am still seen as a pariah, they just talk to me out of politeness.



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10 Oct 2022, 7:05 am

skibum wrote:
And people ask if they can touch you because it's actually rude to just touch others whom they don't know without permission. But many people don't realize that it's rude so they just touch you without asking even if they don't know you. Unless you are doing a recognized gesture of greeting like a handshake, it's not a good idea to just touch someone whom you have never met before. It's just rude.


But that lady was not the first one who invited me for that blessing. Other people were inviting me too. But they didn't phrase it the way they did. I mean, yes, they asked for my permission, since it never happened that someone were to just walk up to me quietly and touch me without saying a word. But they never asked "may I touch you". Yet she did.



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10 Oct 2022, 7:07 am

klanka wrote:
lack of eye contact signals disinterest and comes off as rude because of that


Why would disinterest be rude? I can't help what I am interested in. Or is it rude in a sense that I don't pretend to be interested in something I am not? If so, does it mean that being honest is rude?



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10 Oct 2022, 7:13 am

ToughDiamond wrote:
I don't know where she got the idea that people should make eye contact whenever they pass each other by. It might be helpful to do so in some situations, but not in others. Eye contact can be interpreted as hostility - the so-called "threat stare." I think the eye contact issue is overblown. It's possible to get by without rather less of it than some people believe, and I think it's one of these memes that people tend to swallow and pass on without giving it enough thought.


As far as eye contact can be hostility, that woman acknowledged it too. After all, she said that making an eye contact communicates whether you are "safe part of the environment" or "unsafe part of the environment". So "threat stare" as you put it, would be an example of the latter.

And she also acknowledged that I shouldn't look at people I pass by for as long as I look at people I am talking to. She said I should make eye contact with them for a much briefer period of time.

But then again, she only said the latter after I repeatedly pointed out to her that it seems weird to make eye contact with strangers. So maybe she just assumed it was self-evident or something. And when she saw that I misinterpretted her, she clarified what she meant, but it took her a while to see where I misunderstood her.



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10 Oct 2022, 7:20 am

As for touching, I think it's different for different Aspies, and different cultures have different ideas about when touching is appropriate. Many Aspies seem OK with "firm-pressure" touch but not light touch.

If somebody unexpectedly tries to touch me, I usually discourage them as a reflex reaction before I've had time to think about whether or not I want them to touch me. With the exception of my wife I rarely touch other people, and when I do, I try to make sure they're OK with it first, by starting the process gradually and backing off if they don't seem to signal their acceptance. Of course ever since the pandemic started, responsible people have had to re-think the whole touching game.



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10 Oct 2022, 7:49 am

QFT wrote:
ToughDiamond wrote:
I don't know where she got the idea that people should make eye contact whenever they pass each other by. It might be helpful to do so in some situations, but not in others. Eye contact can be interpreted as hostility - the so-called "threat stare." I think the eye contact issue is overblown. It's possible to get by without rather less of it than some people believe, and I think it's one of these memes that people tend to swallow and pass on without giving it enough thought.


As far as eye contact can be hostility, that woman acknowledged it too. After all, she said that making an eye contact communicates whether you are "safe part of the environment" or "unsafe part of the environment". So "threat stare" as you put it, would be an example of the latter.

And she also acknowledged that I shouldn't look at people I pass by for as long as I look at people I am talking to. She said I should make eye contact with them for a much briefer period of time.

But then again, she only said the latter after I repeatedly pointed out to her that it seems weird to make eye contact with strangers. So maybe she just assumed it was self-evident or something. And when she saw that I misinterpretted her, she clarified what she meant, but it took her a while to see where I misunderstood her.


By the way, I did do hostile stare thing, at least few years ago. As I was obsessing as to why people won't approach me, I would stare at them. And, back then, when I was asking why people look mean at me, thats what I was told: because I stare.

And even if I don't obsess I can stare too. For example, I don't obsess as to whether the instructor would talk to me (of course they would). But I have a habbit that when I sit in class, and wait for the lesson to start, I would look at the instructor the whole time.

I remember, back in high school (25 years ago) I came to economics class, and I was sitting at the table, relaxing, waiting for class to start. Then the economics teacher gives me a look. I first ignore it. Then she gives me another look. Then I ask her "why are you looking at me". And she responed "why are you looking at me? Its not polite to stare is it".

And thats when I noticed that yes, I was staring at her. I was looking at her the whole 5 or 10 minutes I was waiting for a class to start. And no, back in high school I wasn't obsessing about anyone talking to me. It was just something that came off automatically: after all, the teacher is in front of the class, I am waiting for her to start a class, so I stare at her as I wait.



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10 Oct 2022, 7:56 am

This is what doesn't fit with me. I am the opposite, I tend to look intently at people I'm talking to, so much that it makes some of them uncomfortable, I guess.

I'm looking intently to judge what they might do next, or try and get a clue what to say to them, or to see if they look bored or angry or whatever.

We can't win either way it seems: too little, too much eye contact. What's the right amount? I've learned to glance away from people more than look at them, because it seems to reassure them.


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10 Oct 2022, 8:03 am

QFT wrote:
As far as eye contact can be hostility, that woman acknowledged it too. After all, she said that making an eye contact communicates whether you are "safe part of the environment" or "unsafe part of the environment". So "threat stare" as you put it, would be an example of the latter.

And she also acknowledged that I shouldn't look at people I pass by for as long as I look at people I am talking to. She said I should make eye contact with them for a much briefer period of time.

But then again, she only said the latter after I repeatedly pointed out to her that it seems weird to make eye contact with strangers. So maybe she just assumed it was self-evident or something. And when she saw that I misinterpreted her, she clarified what she meant, but it took her a while to see where I misunderstood her.

Well, Aspies do tend to need things explaining very clearly, and most people are poor at doing that.

I think cities are very different to rural areas when it comes to eye-contact with strangers. Often in the countryside the locals will greet people they don't know, in a way that would likely arouse suspicion in a city, and I would think some degree of eye contact would be one of the components of this rural friendliness.

But again, I suspect the received wisdom about "proper" eye contact fails to convey the whole detailed truth of the matter. For example, the model of typical conversational eye contact that Desmond Morris documented is unlike anything I've ever seen from those who advise Aspies how to "fit in." DM reckoned it goes like this:
The speaker looks briefly at the listener's face and eyes as he/she starts to speak, looks away during the body of his verbal offering, and then looks back at the listener at the end. Meanwhile the listener looks at the speaker more or less continuously. Then they reverse those roles, and so on. Now, DM had studied human behaviour very closely across a variety of cultures. I'm not so sure that all the people who advise Aspies have really looked at the matter quite so carefully. Not that I know for sure that DM is right.

None of it does me much good anyway, because although I'm perfectly capable of gazing into a speaker's eyes till the cows come home, when I do so it gets in the way of my attention on what they're saying. So paradoxically, if I use the supposed NT way of showing that I'm listening to them, then I'm not really listening to them at all, and when I look away and close my eyes I'm listening much better but they probably think I'm ignoring them. Interestingly, Alan Watts also said that gazing at a speaker's face gets in the way of attention, so if he was neurotypical, that may suggest that NTs would rather pretend to listen than actually listen.