New study could help people with autism

Eye contact is a bit like putting salt on your chips – too much can ruin everything. For decades, scientists have been studying why eye contact is fraught with awkwardness. Last year, British psychologists suggested the maximum length for unbroken yet comfortable eye contact is 3.3 seconds. Anything more begins to creep us out.

Now, a new study by Dr Nouchine Hadjikhani at Massachusetts General Hospital, says the problem with eye contact originates from the brain’s subcortical system that triggers our attraction to faces and helps people perceive emotions in others. Tellingly, participants with autism experienced subcortical over-activity when they saw fearful, angry or happy faces. The findings could help with more effective ways to engage people with autism, according to Hadjikhani.