Eye Contact Disrupts Thinking

February 21, 2017

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. reasoning / ˈri zə nɪŋ / (n.) – the process of identifying connections and drawing logical conclusions
Example: The investigator’s reasoning skill is so good that she can crack almost any case.

2. associate / əˈsoʊ ʃiˌeɪt / (v.) – to form a connection between two things or people
Example: Some people associate the color red with love.

3. weigh down / weɪ daʊn / (idiom) – to have difficulty because of something heavy or challenging
Example: The heavy workload weighed down her productivity at work.

4. avert / əˈvɜrt / (v.) – to turn something away
Example: I immediately averted my eyes when I saw blood in the movie.

5. dual / du əl / (adj.) – having two of something
Example: She played a dual role of a villager and a baker in the play.


Read the text below.
Maintaining direct eye contact during a conversation can make thinking more difficult, a new study claims.

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Kyoto found that maintaining eye contact uses the same mental resources that people need for reasoning and verbal processing. For this reason, people struggle to hold a conversation that requires them to reason while looking directly into a person’s eyes, the researchers explained.

In the study, the researchers instructed 26 participants to perform a verbal task while staring continuously at a person’s eyes displayed on a computer screen. Sometimes, the displayed eyes stared directly at the participants, while at other times, they looked to the side.

The verbal task required the participants to associate a verb with a noun that they were given. For example, if participants hear the word “bed,” they should give a verb like “sleep.” The difficulty of the nouns gradually increased throughout the task. The participants did not show difficulty when associating verbs with easy nouns, even while maintaining eye contact with the eyes on the screen. However, the researchers noted a drop in the participant’s performance when they were given more difficult nouns.

The results showed that people struggle to perform complex tasks while maintaining eye contact because performing two tasks simultaneously can weigh down the brain. Therefore, people tend to avert their gaze once in a while during a conversation to focus on verbal processing.  

A similar effect was also observed in a study published in 1998. The study suggested that recalling memories is a dual-task situation in which people have to remember things and monitor the environment at the same time. Components of the environment, including another person, can get people’s attention away from their thoughts, so people must avert their gaze to remember effectively.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Do you agree that maintaining eye contact can really make thinking more difficult? Why or why not?
·         How can the findings of these studies affect people’s beliefs about eye contact?

Discussion B
·         What are the other factors that affect concentration when talking to someone?
·         How can people show that they are focused on a conversation even if they do not maintain eye contact? Discuss.

February 21, 2017