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The Role of Eye Contact in Different Cultures

Eye Contact - People talking

Eye contact may be one of the most subtle forms of social interaction, but it should never be underestimated.

If you are travelling or planning a trip, it is something that you need to be particularly aware of – as something which is normal social behaviour at home, may not be in another culture.

Western CulturesEye Contact - Western Cultures
The UK, USA, Australia and Western Europe all have fairly similar social expectations of when and where eye contact is appropriate… which is most of the time!

Eye contact is expected in Western culture, it is a basic essential to a social interaction which shows a person’s interest and engagement with your conversation.

In Western cultures eyes are considered to show the central point of a person’s focus. So if somebody doesn’t give any eye contact during a conversation, it may be considered insulting. Many people would take this to mean that they weren’t interested, and take their wandering eyes as a sign of their distraction.

In other, more formal, circumstances in Western cultures a lack of eye contact can be seen in another way. For example, in an interview situation, strong eye contact by the interviewee is seen as a sign of self-belief, whereas a lack of eye contact is seen as a lack of confidence.

Middle Eastern CulturesEye Contact - Middle East
While the many cultures of the Middle Eastern countries can hardly be grouped together, they do have a few common trends – one of which is their use of eye contact.

Eye contact is less common, and considered less appropriate than in Western cultures. There are strict gender rules, whereby women should not make too much eye contact with men as it could be misconstrued as a romantic interest.

Intense eye contact is often a method used to show sincerity. Long, strong eye contact can mean ‘believe me, I’m telling you the truth’.

Asian CulturesEye Contact - Asian Cultures
Asian cultures place great importance on respect. Hierarchies are much more visible in their society than in Western cultures, and their social behaviors mirror this.

In countries such as China and Japan, eye contact is not considered an essential to social interaction, instead it is often considered inappropriate. In such an authoritarian culture, it is believed that subordinates shouldn’t make steady eye contact with their superiors.

For example, students are discouraged from making eye contact with their professors, as it can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect. Similarly a daughter will point her eyes downwards when her father is speaking to her, as a sign of politeness and respect.

African and Latin American Cultures Peruvian Women
Many African and Latin American cultures, while unique in many ways, remain strong hierarchical societies. In many circumstances intense eye contact is seen as aggressive, confrontational and extremely disrespectful.

Eye contact is so subtly ingrained into every culture that it is something which is rarely even considered before travelling abroad.

Westerner’s use of eye contact could be deemed inappropriate, and even disrespectful, in many other cultures – so make sure you learn the use of eye contact and body language before you jet off!


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JOY TOUR and TRAVEL has been in operation since 1985. We are fully bonded and insured. We are specialists in many areas of travel. Our staff has traveled extensively to bring you first-hand knowledge of the world. It is our goal to provide quality travel experiences that are of exceptional value to our clients. We are an active member and Co-Owner of Travel Alliance Partners (TAP). This is your assurance that this agency meets the highest standards of financial stability. We have to meet certain criteria to be a member of TAP. TAP is 29 of North America's premier tour operators. We are also a member of (which allows us to get special discounts); the Greater Cincinnati BBB, Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) and International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN), which allows us to book international, as well as domestic airline itineraries

22 comments on “The Role of Eye Contact in Different Cultures

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  6. Kyle
    June 9, 2015

    And what about Oceania? What is their protocol on eye contact?

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  18. Cooper and Lourie
    April 25, 2017

    Strong eye contact by the individual has been seen as a sign of self-belief, whereas a lack of eye contact is seen as a lack of confidence.

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  21. Holly
    June 13, 2018

    Funny thing you forgot the First Nations such as in my Cree culture its very disrespectful to look them in the eyes

  22. Charles Hoyle
    July 6, 2018

    When in Rome do as the Romans!!

    A person should adopt the country they live in as their norm for eye contact. If living in The United States adopt the eye contact appropriate to that culture. If not don’t expect to be treated with the appropriate culture norm.

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