Why is it difficult to speak looking into people’s eyes?

If you are one of those people who say “I can’t look people in the eye” and want to understand the psychology of not looking into your eyes while speaking , you can rest assured that it is something very natural. When someone is talking to you, have you noticed how they seem to break eye contact, as if they are finding it  difficult to speak and look into your eyes at the same time ? Likewise, when you are explaining something to someone or telling a story, do you look away from the person’s eyes so you can focus on what you are saying? A couple of Japanese researchers say that this is because eye contact has a “unique effect” on our “cognitive control processes”. Essentially,looking at each other is so mentally stimulating that it can be tricky to think straight and maintain eye contact at the same time .

Previous research has shown that eye contact interferes with other mental tasks, such as those involving visual imagination. This is certainly not so surprising, because eye contact and visual imagination are obviously playing in the same mental domain. In their new article on  Cognition , Shogo Kajimura and Michio Nomura tested whether eye contact also interferes with our ability to generate verbs in a word task, and whether this happens in all cases, or only when the verb generation task is very difficult.

The main result is that the participants were much slower in the verb generation task when making eye contact with the face on the screen, in contrast to when the face look was avoided, but only in the most difficult version of the verb generation task , when recovery and selection requirements were high.

Kajimura and Nomura said that this shows that eye contact does not directly interfere with mental processes specifically related to verb generation – if that were the case, performance times should have been longer for eye contact between easy and difficult versions of the task. verbs. Instead, they said the results are consistent with the idea that eye contact drains our more general cognitive resources – the kind we need for other tasks, like speaking, becomes very difficult to be addressed by specific resources of the domain. That is why the more complicated the story you are telling (or the excuse you are giving), the more likely you are to break eye contact.

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