File photo (REUTERS/Mike Blake).
Researchers in Japan suggest that there is a surprising neurological reason why people are turning their eyes occasionally during the call. Reporting in the journal Cognition, they write that eye contact actually “interferes with the resources available for cognitive control processes during verb generation.” In other words, when you need to come up with certain words under certain circumstances, the maintaining of contact with eyes, drops the very brain resources that you need to find the words.
So you look away. To test this, the researchers asked 26 participants to make eye contact with a computer-generated face while playing a word association game, reports Business Insider.
Looking at the face, seems not to interfere with their ability to come up with verbs easily linked to words—like the word “scissors” asks the person to think of “cut.” But if nouns were more difficult, for example, as they also had a number of associations or were a little obscure—it took participants longer to think of a verb, while maintaining that contact with the eyes.
As a post on the Science Alert summarizes: “While making eye contact and holding a conversation is definitely possible, this is the proof that they can both draw from the same pool of cognitive resources, and sometimes it is that the pool is starting to run a little dry.” The researchers do not parse the possible cultural influences, but Scientific American suggests that when thinking is cross-cultural, “perhaps cultures with less emphasis on contact with the eyes in deeper thought during a conversation.” (Eye contact is prohibited in a certain Minnesota locale.)
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This article originally appeared on Newser: Scientists Have a Theory about Why You’re Breaking Contact with the Eyes