Eye contact is one of the most powerful forms of nonverbal communication. It can communicate attraction, desire and interest.

It also creates physiologic arousal, increasing activity in the prefrontal brain and speeding up breathing and heart rate.

However, people avoid eye contact for a variety of reasons. Some of these include: avoiding eye contact can be a sign of anxiety, shyness and nervousness.

1. It Creates a Connection

Eye contact is a crucial cue that demonstrates your willingness to engage with others. Long glances in conversation show your partner that you’re listening and care about them, a key element of emotional intimacy.

Studies have shown that when you gaze into someone’s eyes, it causes your brain to mirror their emotions. This creates a connection and increases empathy and compassion for others, creating a sense of belonging.

However, if you’re uncomfortable with looking directly into another person’s eyes, don’t force it. Intentional avoidance of eye contact is a red flag of insecurity or resentment, and can signal that you’re unable to maintain a healthy relationship.

While it’s easy to dismiss eye contact as something reserved for horny mouth-breathers and obnoxious drunk guys in full bro mode, there’s real power behind it. By holding a steady gaze, you can communicate that you’re willing to connect with others, and may even be ready for love. It takes time to learn how to make eye contact, but with practice, it will get easier and become more natural.

2. It Increases Desire

There’s a certain kind of eye contact that signals attraction. It’s the lingering glances couples use during conversations, the look that suggests they really care about what one another has to say.

It’s also the type of eye contact that makes it possible for them to communicate things without having to speak. In fact, studies have shown that couples who gaze into each other’s eyes during conversations report feeling more affection for one another than those who don’t.

Obviously, the amount of eye contact you make will depend on the relationship and setting. Some cultures, such as the Japanese and Navajo, consider it rude to make direct eye contact with people outside of close relationships. And people with neurological differences, such as autism and ADHD, may find it challenging to hold eye contact for prolonged periods of time. But in general, maintaining eye contact for about 50% of the conversation – more when listening than when speaking – should create a comfortable, productive atmosphere.

3. It Communicates Attraction

Eye contact communicates attraction and intimacy, both sexual and nonsexual. When you gaze into someone’s eyes they feel a desire to be with you, which can lead to feelings of closeness and trust in the relationship. The gaze can also be an arousal trigger, increasing the production of the hormone dopamine.

Whether they are a stranger or someone you’ve known for a while, eye contact sends the message that you want to be there. When someone doesn’t look you in the eye, it could mean that they are not interested or hiding something. Similarly, when someone looks at you and then quickly looks away, it may indicate that they are not interested or don’t know what to say.

Maintaining eye contact can be difficult, especially if you’re not used to it. Try starting with short spells of eye contact and gradually building up to longer periods. Alternatively, you can alternate between looking at one eye, then the other, or look at their mouth and back to the first eye. This can feel more natural than a continuous gaze, and it still creates the same connection.

4. It Strengthens Relationships

When you look someone in the eye, you’re telling them that you trust them and respect them. This kind of intimacy can help strengthen both romantic and nonsexual relationships, as well as family bonds. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to create a bond in couples therapy.

For some people, however, this kind of intimate eye contact is difficult and uncomfortable. They may have social anxiety or shyness that makes them feel bad about looking at others in the eye. They may also be worried that their feelings will be misinterpreted.

Cultural differences also play a role in how comfortable you are with eye contact. Some cultures, such as the Japanese and Navajo, consider it rude to make direct eye contact with strangers or elders. In addition, people with neurodivergences can have trouble with eye contact as it overstimulates them.