Researchers Discover Why It’s Hard to Maintain Eye Contact During Conversation

The average amount of eye contact adults make is 30-60% per conversation, 60-70% if they feel invested. 

 

In many countries and regions of the world, take East Asia for instance, looking someone in the eye is considered rude. If that person is above you on the social hierarchy, say a professor, parent, or boss, doing so can be considered defiant. In the West however, maintaining eye contact is a sign of respect and earnestness. Avoiding eye contact is thought to be for a reason, such as you are lying, anxious, socially awkward, guilty, or untrustworthy. Sometimes it even telegraphs boredom with the topic of discussion.  


Adults make eye contact through 30-60% of a conversation, on average. Those who have a stake in it maintain eye contact 60-70% of the time. Now, a new study in the journal Cognition finds that those who occasionally have trouble maintaining eye contact do so merely because they’re cogitating.

Scientists at Kyoto University in Japan discovered that maintaining eye contact while processing what a person is saying is sometimes taxing on the brain. The brain finds it difficult to “share cognitive resources,” and so one breaks eye contact in order to better process what’s being said. The problem centers in the verbal processing portion of the brain. Here, both selection and retrieval of words occurs.

To understand the reason why face-to-face conversationalists sometimes break eye contact, researchers recruited 26 volunteers. Each was asked to play a word-association game which entailed staring into a series of faces projected on a computer screen. Some looked right at the person, while others looked away. Here when a noun was selected, say frisbee, a volunteer was asked to reply with a verb, say catch.

Sometimes volunteers maintained eye contact when playing the game. At other times, they looked away. Researchers were sure to pick both easy and hard associations. “Leaf” and “sky” were among the more difficult ones. Investigators noted how long it took for participants to respond and how often they broke eye contact. They took more time to respond to difficult questions, as one might imagine. But breaking eye contact shortened response time.

Researchers suggest that holding one’s gaze helps with bonding by heightening one’s connection to the other person. But it’s demanding on the brain. They wrote that when we look away, “we are trying to keep our brains from overloading.” Investigators say this helps us better understand how nonverbal communication interacts with the verbal kind. That’s important, as 85% of communication is nonverbal.

To learn some tips on how to make eye contact work for you, click here: 

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less
Sponsored

22 months of war - condensed in a 1-minute video

No, the Syrian civil war is not over. But it might be soon. Time for a recap

Strange Maps
  • The War in Syria has dropped off the radar, but it's not over (yet)
  • This 1-minute video shows how the fronts have moved – and stabilised – over the past 22 months
  • Watching this video may leave you both better informed, and slightly queasy: does war need a generic rock soundtrack?
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less

How to bring more confidence to your conversations

Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.

content.jwplatform.com
Videos
  • To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
  • Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
  • There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
Keep reading Show less