Friday, November 11, 2005

Why do we Look Away During a Conversation?

Ever wondered why you have a hard time maintaining eye contact while you are answering someone’s question, particularly if it is difficult?

The usual explanations that are given, particulary if you are sitting very close to the person, are either that you might be feeling shy or awkward, or that you might be attempting to deceive the person you are talking to.

Can there be any other reason?

A study indicates another possible explanation at least for some of the times.
We get a great deal of information by looking at faces, and this information places a significant load on our cognitive systems. Perhaps, when we’re asked a difficult question and need to concentrate, looking away from a face helps us focus on the cognitive demands of the question.
The next time your better-half chides you for not looking into their eyes during a particularly inconvenient conversation, cite this study and stoutly maintain that you were not lying but were focusing on the cognitive demands that communication necessitates.

It just might help you worm out of a sticky situation.


Ro said...

Clearly some scientists/researchers have a lot of free time and abundance of resources.

Ravikiran said...

Actually mandar and ro, the ability to make eye contact is a hotly researched topic, for good reason. It tells us a lot about sex differences. Men make much less contact than women. This difference in sexes manifests itself in infants as young as 1 day old. Male infants look at objects (like toys etc.) for much longer than they do faces and vice versa with female infants.

Then there is autism (which has been described as a disease of "extreme maleness") where one of the symptoms is a complete inability to look people in the eye. Autists (and those with Asperger's syndrome, a milder form) are completely unable to make any emotional contact with people at all.