Why it's hard to talk and make eye contact at the same time

Posted on November 21, 2016

Photo: flickr

When someone’s talking to you, have you noticed how they seem to keep breaking off eye contact, as if finding it hard to both talk and look you in the eye at the same time? Similarly, when you’re explaining something to someone or telling them a story, do you find yourself looking away from their eyes, so that you can concentrate on what you’re saying? A pair of Japanese researchers say that this happens because eye contact has a “unique effect” on our “cognitive control processes”. Essentially, mutual gaze is so mentally stimulating that it can be tricky to think straight and maintain eye contact at the same time.

Shogo Kajimura and Michio Nomura did an experiment testing if eye contact creates an interference with our ability to generate verbs in a word task or only when verb generation task is made challenging.
There is a total of 26 participants involved, asked to look directly at a stranger’s face shown on-screen, while simultaneously executing to an auditory verb generation task. Six men’s and women’s faces in the study were either looking straight at the participant or with avoided gaze. Video animated faces appeared naturally, blinking and breathing. In each trial, participant looked at the face, heard a noun and was to respond out loud with a verb that could be used with the noun in a sentence.

A range of nouns with different level of difficulty was used by the researchers, based on whether one response is more dominant than any others versus there being many other equally possible alternatives.

Kajimura and Nomura indicated that this experiment shows how eye contact does not directly interfere with mental processes specifically related to verb generation.

However, results are noticed to be consistent with the idea that general cognitive resources were more drained with eye contact.

Past research has shown that young children can benefit from being taught to avert their gaze when they are thinking while adults instinctively looked away when we are talking.

To read full article, please click on link below.

Source material from British Psychological Society

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