- People find it difficult to maintain eye contact for longer periods while engaging in conversation with other people.
- This maybe because holding the gaze and communicating simultaneously could be demanding for the brain.
- The brain urges breaking eye contact to focus on choosing right words for conversation.
Maintaining eye contact while thinking of words may be a demanding task for the brain. This could be the reason why people find it difficult to maintain eye contact while talking.
Though breaking eye contact while engaged in conversation may seem rude, the reason for this could be because holding someone's gaze while thinking for words is a demanding task for the brain and often people break eye contact to keep the brains from overloading.
‘Though eye contact while conversing helps establish better emotional rapport, looking elsewhere may actually stimulate better conversation.’
Researchers from the Kyoto University in Japan carried out experiments to provide a possible explanation for the phenomenon.
A group of 26 volunteers were asked to play a common word-association game. A person was shown a noun and was asked to immediately reply with a connected verb.
The participants had to interact with a face on the computer that sometimes looked away. While some words were easy, some were difficult.
Researchers then measured how long it took a volunteer to respond and their tendency to break eye contact.
When responding to harder words, participants needed longer time. But if they broke eye-contact, the time for response reduced.
This indicates that the dual task of maintaining eye contact while also thinking for words is excessively demanding for the brain.
"The dual task of maintaining eye contact (and the inherent intimate connection it involves) while also racking the brain for a word to meet the request is just too demanding - to save itself, the brain pushes for breaking eye contact so it can focus exclusively on finding a word that will fulfill the obligation." the researchers quote.
The brain pushes for breaking eye contact so that it can focus on choosing better words. Looking someone in the eye may help us better establish an emotional rapport, but looking elsewhere may actually stimulate better conversation.
The study is published in Cognition
- Shogo Kajimura et al. When we cannot speak: Eye contact disrupts resources available to cognitive control processes during verb generation. Cognition; (2016)