Why it’s difficult to keep eye contact during conversation


Ever tried having a conversation and experienced difficulties in keeping eye contact? Well, you are not alone, and a new research suggests that there’s a good scientific reason behind that. In simple words, it seems that our brains just can’t handle the tasks of thinking of the right words and focusing on a face at the same time.

It’s more noticeable when we are trying to use less familiar words, which seems to use the same mental resources as the ones we use to sustain eye contact. Researchers from the Kyoto University in Japan tested this by having 26 volunteers playing a word association game while staring at computer-generated faces, they found out, that when the volunteers were making eye contact, they found it harder to come up with the right words.

They were tested both while looking at animations of faces making eye contact and faces looking away, they were then asked to think about both links between easily associated words and words that are not so easy to associate, so words like “knife” which can be associated with verbs like cut, stab, and not much more, were easy to get when looking at a face, but more complex words, like for example “folder” were harder, as there is lots of verbs you can use to describe the actions.

Each time that there were more complex words involved, and they were being stared at, it took much longer to find associations, and from that, the researchers concluded that there must be too much information at the same time for the brain to handle.

So, we can conclude, that although keeping a conversation while making eye contact at the same time is clearly doable, it’s hereby proved that it slows the conversation, and therefore shows us that we’re at that moment asking too much of the same region of the brain.

Just remember, if someone talks to you, not staring in the eyes, don’t think they are just being rude, maybe they just have an overloaded cognitive system.

The findings were published in the journal Cognition.