Researchers at Edith Cowan University, using eye-tracking technology, found that if you avoid eye contact while talking to another person and instead stare at their mouth or another part of their face, they will still enjoy talking to you as much as if you'd made eye contact.
Lead author Dr Shane Rogers, from the School of Arts and Humanities, said for people who experience social anxiety when gazing specifically at another person's eyes — or when being looked at — this finding will be welcome news.
"Maintaining strong eye contact is widely accepted to be an important communication skill in western cultures," Dr Rogers said.
"People believe if you aren't willing to engage in soul-to-soul mutual eye contact then you are at best lacking in confidence, at worst, untrustworthy.
"However, the reverence devoted to eye contact is not supported by scientific evidence," he said.
The study involved a researcher engaging in four-minute conversations with 46 participants where both parties wore Tobii eye tracking glasses.
"For approximately half the conversations the researcher looked at the eyes most of the time, and for the other half gazed predominantly at the mouth," Dr Rogers said.
After the conversations, the participants rated how much they enjoyed the conversations.
"The mouth group perceived the same amount of eye contact and enjoyed the conversations just as much as the eye group," Dr Rogers said.