Why is it so hard to maintain eye contact during a conversation?

A team of scientists from Japan explains through a recent study why it is so difficult to maintain continuous eye contact during a conversation with an interlocutor. An overload of the brain would be in question according to them.

At Kyoto University in Japan, a team of scientists published the results of their study in the journal Cognition, which looked at our inability to maintain continuous eye contact with an interlocutor during a conversation. In this study, the researchers suggest that our brain cannot handle both finding the right words and concentrating on a face.

To reach these conclusions, these scientists summoned a group of 26 volunteers, who had to participate in word association games while looking at computer-generated faces. The links between the words were then more difficult to find during the established visual contacts.  » Although eye contact and verbal processing appear independent, people often look away from other people during conversation. This suggests that there is interference between these processes “, explain the researchers in their study.

Eye contacts involved animations of faces making eye contact and animations of faces looking away. Participants were asked to make connections between words, sometimes easy and sometimes more complicated associations. For example, thinking of a verb associated with the word « knife » is relatively straightforward, with the verb « cut » being fairly obvious. On the other hand, thinking of a verb for the word “file” is more complicated, because there are more possibilities (open, close, consult, fill, etc.).

Participants took longer to think of words when they made eye contact, but only when difficult word associations were involved. The researchers suspect hesitation indicates the brain is handling too much information at once.

However, these results require further study, in particular due to the relatively small size of the sample. Now, researchers at Kyoto University would like to further investigate the links between verbal and nonverbal communication.

Here is one who would however have no difficulty maintaining his gaze:


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