Did you ever find yourself cutting off eye contact with another person while having a really good conversation?
If it’s not because of boredom, it might be because you are struggling to find the next words to say.
That’s exactly what a new Japanese study
suggests: thinking becomes much harder while maintaining eye contact.
In their experiment, researchers at Kyoto University had participants watch a screen with another person’s face while performing a verbal task. Specifically, they had to stare at the other person’s eyes.
The verbal task required them to think of a verb that may be associated with a noun they hear. For instance, they can respond with “eat” after hearing “food,” “sleep” after hearing “bed” and so on.
While it seems like a piece of cake, the experiment becomes challenging in two different ways, Scientific American
noted. First, one noun can be associated with many verbs, and second, some verbs are just hard to remember even when nouns are simple.
As it turned out, direct eye contact only doubled the difficulty of uttering a verb for a noun that’s challenging in both ways mentioned. Interestingly, researchers did not observe any drop in performance when participants were given easier nouns, even while maintaining eye contact.
The researchers also claimed that the interaction and interference of verbal and non-verbal channels must be considered in order to achieve a “full understanding” of functional and dysfunctional communication. There’s definitely more work to be done here.
That being said, don’t feel too bad when you catch yourself losing eye contact—you may just be trying to think better.