First impressions always make a difference, but the next time you have to shake someone's hand, it may not be necessary to look right into their eyes.

A new study by researchers Miguel Eckstein and Matt Peterson at the University of California, Santa Barbara suggests the best way to look at someone's face is to avoid eye contact ... and check right below a person's eyes.

"For the majority of people, the first place we look at is somewhere in the middle, just below the eyes," said Miguel Eckstein, professor of psychology in the department of psychological and brain sciences in a press release.

The researchers used an eye tracker and over 100 photos to figure out exactly where participants would look first. Turns out, this spot in the middle of the face, right below the eyes, is the best way to recognize who someone is, their gender and their emotional state, the study found.

study ucsb

Green circles are where, on average, each of the participants first looked at when identifying the face. White circle corresponds to the average across all participants.

But that's not the case for everyone. Other studies suggest that when it comes to a male's gaze in particular, it almost always goes right to the breasts, according to The Daily Telegraph.

The study found that 47 per cent of men look at a woman's chest first, followed by the waist and hips, and 20 per cent look at the face.

But it gets complicated depending on the situation in which you find yourself. For job interviews or meeting your in-laws for the first time, direct eye contact might be the way to go, because as Yahoo News states, showing full confidence and attention starts with direct eye contact. However, in some Asian cultures, having direct eye contact with the person of the opposite sex can also be seen as a form of disrespect, according to About.com.

Eckstein and researchers also add that their experiment doesn't represent everyone's behaviours, but it is important to understand the human eye's rapid movement.

How important is eye contact for you? Let us know in the comments below:

LOOK: How to keep your eyesight healthy:

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  • Don’t forget your eyes

    Treat your eye health as you would any other part of your body. Most people are recommended to go for a check-up every two years, unless otherwise advised by an optometrist. Even if you think your vision is fine, some eye conditions, for example open angle glaucoma, may not show symptoms.

  • Be risk aware

    People of Asian or African Caribbean descent or people over 40 should go for a sight test at least every two years as they are more at risk of developing eye disease

  • Quit smoking

    If you smoke, you have another good reason to kick the habit. Smoking is linked to blindness. Current smokers are four times more likely to develop macular degeneration – a progressive disease that can lead to significant sight loss – compared to past smokers or non-smokers.

  • It’s all relative

    Talk to your relatives about your family eye health history as some eye conditions, such as glaucoma, can run in families. It’s important to think about your child’s eyes and to be aware of their vision, especially if there is a family history of lazy eye or squint or family members wore particularly strong spectacles when they were young.

  • Be cool in the sun

    Protect your eyes when it is sunny or when you’re in high glare areas such as near snow or water. Cumulative UV exposure may damage your eyes. When choosing sunglasses make sure that they are safe as well as stylish! Look out for the CE or BS EN 1836:2005 marks – this ensures that they provide a safe level of protection from the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget to also protect children’s eyes – they’re more at risk.

  • Protect your eyes

    If you work with hazardous or airborne materials at work or home wear safety glasses or protective goggles to protect your eyes from injury.

  • Keep fit and healthy

    Regular exercise is essential to stay fit and healthy but it is also important that when playing sports such as squash that you wear protective eye wear such as helmets or sports goggles to protect your eyes from a flying ball.

  • Eat well

    Protecting your eyes starts with the food you eat. Nutrients rich in omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamins C and E may help to prevent age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Recommended foods include green leafy vegetables and oily fish, such as salmon, and citrus fruits.

  • Contact lens care

    If you wear contact lenses make sure you look after them properly. Thoroughly wash and dry your hands before touching your contact lenses or your eyes, and only ever clean your contact lenses using the solution recommended by your optometrist. Never shower, sleep or swim with your contact lenses in because this can put you at risk of developing a serious eye infection which could lead to blindness. Also, don't wear them for longer periods than recommended by your optometrist.

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