Science Explains Why People Cannot Maintain Eye Contact While Talking

Posted: Dec 28 2016, 2:53pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 29 2016, 5:28am CST, in News | Latest Science News

A Scientific Explanation for Why People cannot Maintain Eye Contact While Talking
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The dual task of maitaining eye contact and thinking is too demanding for our brains.

Maintaining eye contact while talking to a person is generally appreciated because it indicates that you are focused and paying attention. However, it can sometimes become a bit harder to stare directly into someone’s eyes. This is not because of boredom or shyness, it might be because persistent eye contact is strenuous for your brain. Our brains actually struggle to think of right words and focus on eyes at the same time. In short, thinking becomes much difficult while maintaining eye contact.

“Although eye contact and verbal processing appear independent, people frequently avert their eyes from interlocutors during conversation. This suggests that there is interference between these processes.” Researchers from Japan’s Kyoto University wrote in the study.

To better understand the phenomenon, researchers asked 26 participants to stare at a computer-generated face while playing a word association game. During the experiment, participants were shown a word and they had to come up with an immediate response. For instance, when given the noun “ball,” a reply might be the verb “throw.”

Participants did not struggle to focus on eyes and respond at the same time when the noun was easy and they had multiple options to choose from. But when nouns were more difficult – for example, coming up with a verb for “sky” - they found it difficult to answer rapidly while maintaining eye contact.

Researchers found that consistent eye contact made the participants struggle to perform harder tasks. The results indicate that the task of maintaining eye contact and responding to a request just become too demanding for brain and participants had to glance off to the side to pull an appropriate world out of somewhere in their mind.

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