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Why It Is Hard To Maintain Eye Contact During A Conversation

Why It Is Hard To Maintain Eye Contact During A Conversation

Making eye contact or avoiding it can be interpreted in many ways, depending upon the culture you are a part of. In western societies, making eye contact is a sign of confidence and strength, while in many eastern cultures, looking into the eye of a person higher up in the social hierarchy is deemed outright disrespectful. In the globalized culture that we are a part of, avoiding eye contact is associated with lying, anxiety, guilt and being untrustworthy. However, for many, guilty or innocent, maintaining eye contact during a conversation itself is a very difficult task, and here is why:

In general, adults make eye contact for 30-60% of the conversation. But even if the conversation is really important, then the average goes only as high as 60-70%, points communications-analytics company Quantified Impressions . A recent study published in the journal Cognition found that we occasionally have trouble maintaining eye contact because we are cogitating. Shogo Kajimura and Michio Nomura, two scientists from Kyoto University discovered that maintaining eye contact while processing what other person is saying can be taxing on the brain. This is because the brain finds it difficult to share cognitive resources and so one has to break eye contact in order to better process what is being said.

The Japanese scientist reached this conclusion by conducting a test on 26 participants. The participants were asked to look directly into the eyes of stranger's face that were shown on a screen, and they were asked to perform an auditory verb generation task simultaneously. The researchers found that they break eye contact as a way to keep the brain from overloading. A study by Lucy Markson and Kevin B. Paterson found that averting gaze from an interlocutor can improve both children and adults' performance in a range of cognitive tasks.

So, next time when someone breaks eye contact with you during a conversation, don't rush into judging them as guilty or untrustworthy. Chances are, they are trying to cogitate what you just said.

(Image Credit: Thinkstock)

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