The Phoenix

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Look Away, Baby Look Away

In high school, I had a teacher with a glass eye. You talk about freaky. He'd look at you, making eye contact. One eye would move while the glass eye would remain frozen, menacingly staring at you. None of us ever looked him straight in the face.

In general, does averting eye contact mean kids are being disrespectful or uninterested? The answer is no. In fact, scientists believe that a child looking away is simply using their noggin in order to process complex information.

Psychogists have known for years that adults will look away 85% of the time when asked a tough question. Kids under 5 do it 40% of the time. (For cool information on how adults look away relating to what kind of information they're recalling - or totally making up - read THIS).

Here's how researchers conducted their study:

Researchers took 20 five-year old kids and trained 10 of them to look away when trying to come up with an answer. The other 10 kids were the control group and got no such training. No training fo' you!!! Then they asked all 20 kids various verbal and math questions of varying difficulty.

The "look away" kids averaged 72% correct answers on the verbal quiz.

The control group only got 55% right. They also were severely beaten afterwards for failing. Just kidding.

"The difference between groups was especially evident on the difficult questions where the [averted gaze] group got on average 60.9 percent correct while the [untrained] kids got only 36.7 percent," psychologist Doherty-Sneddon said.

Why did the averted gaze kids do so much better?

Scientists believe it's because humans find it difficult to chew gum and walk at the same time. Ok, not literally, but sorta. We find the human face captivating, and so eye contact is actually quite distracting. Our brains are unable to go through complex processes while looking at someone's face.

A study published in Neuroscience last summer showed how the human brain has a tough time simultaneously looking and listening. Is that really surprising, though? Just look at all the morons driving around while talking on their cell phones.

So instead of accosting a kid for looking away when asked a question, maybe teachers should give the child enough time to think of the right answer and actually avoid eye contact. Especially if the teacher has a creepy glass eye.


Blogger vani said...

this explains allot. so when my kids are looking the when i'm speaking to them, its ok? :)

11/08/2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger Cari said...

woah! we have been trying to get tyler out of that habit just recently...

thanks! im sure tyler would thank u too! :}

now i kind feel bad,,:{

i knew a guy named sean w/ a glass eye...he was a surfer & he said a shark took his eye out...he said that he got used to people being so distracted w/ his eye he would find himself having to repeat himself over & over again

11/08/2006 10:37 PM  
Blogger Tawcan said...

Wow that's very interesting. Thanx for the interesting info!

11/09/2006 1:00 AM  
Blogger DaBich said...

"Scientists believe it's because humans find it difficult to chew gum and walk at the same time."
Dayum, now my secret is out! Thanks a lot Phoenix! :P

11/09/2006 4:45 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

If you ask your kid something, and you want a truthful answer, it depends on which way they're looking. There have been some broad generalizations (i.e. if they look up and to their right, they're lying) that are wrong. It depends on what kind of question you ask.

A person asked a question that looks up and to their right (your left) is actually using a part of their brain used for constructing images. In other words, if I said, "Imagine how worried I was waiting for your call," you'd look up and to your left because you're constructing an image in your head.

But if you ask your kid, "Where were you at midnight last night?" and they look up and to their right, they're constructing an answer - which means they're probably lying. If they look up and to their left, they are retrieving a real memory, however.

11/09/2006 7:24 AM  
Blogger starbender said...

I luv making eye contact--it can make the other person very nervous--HERE'S LOOKIN IN MY EYES...

11/09/2006 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eye contact makes me feel unfortable for some reason.

I cant beleive how many people cruise along over here on the cell phone , coffe mug in the other or even applying make up , on the phone and driving at the same time !!

11/09/2006 8:38 AM  
Blogger angel, jr. said...

Sometimes when I look away, I still come up with the wrong answer.
During piano and violin lessons, I always looked away. I think that is why I never hit the right key.

11/09/2006 8:42 AM  
Blogger Curare_Z said...

I ALWAYS look away when I'm thinking. It's almost like I want a "private moment" to come up with an answer or thought. I used to worry about people thinking I was lying, until one of my clients (who later became a friend) said not to worry about it because it made me look "thoughtful." Whatever. :-)

11/09/2006 9:16 AM  
Blogger AnonymousCoworker said...

Interesting. I find it difficult to look at people when I'm talking, and find that my eyes are constantly darting around. I guess I'm easily distracted.

11/09/2006 9:51 AM  
Blogger cube said...

Peter Falk has a glass eye & he played Columbo, my favorite detective... coincidence or a meaningful concurrence of cm,bn/mzfjk;af ...sorry, I looked away from the keyboard for a second ;-)

11/09/2006 10:45 AM  
Blogger Mr. Friendly said...

When my daughter pulls that "looking away" stuff, I immediately assume she is about to lie and begin with the ceremonial beating.

11/09/2006 1:35 PM  
Blogger Sar said...

That's really interesting. As adults we're trained to make eye contact for repect during conversation. I suppose that means respect over attention, huh?

Btw - Party, my place, tomorrow!

11/09/2006 5:17 PM  
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

very interesting!!
I'm a looker-awayer too :-)
In fact, being a quiet, analytical introvert, I sometimes look away and think so long about my answers that people get right upset at me! oh well. My kids are exactly the same.

11/09/2006 5:29 PM  
Blogger Big Pissy said...

That does explain alot.

And they need to do a study on why you can't help but focus on something like a glass eye....or a huge mole...

Remember that 'Austin Powers' movie?

"Molie Molie MOLE! ;-)

11/09/2006 7:31 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

brain studies about eye movement are always suspect because the left/right brain functions are reverse in about 10% of left handed person -- compounded by parents forcing a natural lefty to be right-handed -- but we do know the following:

logical thinking, gaze break right.
artistic thinking, gaze break left.
looking anywhere but at the road ahead, Missouri driver.

11/09/2006 8:08 PM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...


I spend half of my time driving the highways of Central and Southern Illinois...Missouri drivers are stupid. But Illinois drivers are reckless.

Also, if people talk to themselves, they usually look down and to their left while doing it.

11/09/2006 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I just thought people thought I was extremely unattractive when they talked to me.

11/09/2006 8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was cool! Because I am shy I make it a point to look people in the eye even if I say nothing.

And that's cool about the where you look depending on the question. Very cool.

11/09/2006 9:43 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

Interesting read. I've read about the theory where someone is looking down and to the right, they are accessing memory, but to the left they are accessing the "creative" (ie: lying) parts of the brain.

Further though, it's interesting that Autism Spectrum Disorder kids/PPD don't make eye contact at all. Could they be so consumed in their own minds that making eye contact is just TOO overwhelming?

11/10/2006 12:05 AM  
Blogger Phats said...

That's quite informative, I am going to go out and ask adults tough questions and see what I find :)

I had a teacher in the 6th grade with a glass eye

11/10/2006 1:10 AM  
Blogger O Ceallaigh said...

Eye contact is a form of domination - making sure the contactee knows who's boss. Reminds me of a Cosby dialogue, between his young self and his mother - something like:

"Shut up and look at me! For this I slaved so hard, worked my fingers to the bone... Where were you last night?"

"I ..."

"DON'T ANSWER THAT!! I'll answer the questions around here!!"

Here's lookin' at you, kid. No, not you, Phoenix. Unless you're really Ingrid Bergman, ca. 1940.


11/10/2006 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Bruce said...

My left eye drifts to the corner(a side effect of my cerebral palsy), so making eye contact is not on my list of favorite things to do. Even after all thes years, I'm still self-conscious about it.

11/10/2006 10:33 AM  
Blogger Grafs said...

Eye contact is very distracting, though I focus on making it. Interesting study!

11/10/2006 10:40 AM  
Anonymous the weirdgirl said...

I have this horrible habit of talking on the phone, reading email, and trying to type at the same time. It SO does not work.

I'll remember to cut the kids (and my husband) some slack.

11/10/2006 11:20 AM  
Blogger mad said...

Heh, I don't doubt the conclusion, but there's something fishy about the test. The look away group had 7.2 kids get the right answers, while the control group had 5.5 kids answer correctly, meaning that the look away group had only 1.7 more kid(s) get the right answer than the control group. Could be the control group had 1.7 less smart kid.

OK, I don't know what I just said. Math was not my strong suit.

11/10/2006 12:25 PM  
Blogger KC said...

I've often wondered if people think I'm rude because I do tend to look away a lot when talking with people. I can't remember a past situation or it's details unless I can picture it in my mind's eye. In order to do that, I must look away.

11/10/2006 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dog looks away when she knows she's done something wrong. All my years in customer service "cured" me of the looking away tendency. Looking at people when you talk to them and listen to them is a sign of respect. It's really not that hard one you get the hang of it.

11/10/2006 1:30 PM  
Blogger Tai said...

I've heard that people look up and to the left when trying to remember something...perhaps that's part of it?

(oh man...I just read your comment about that exact thing. Guess I'll leave it there. You'll know I was looking up and to the left when I was trying to format that little bit of info...right?)

11/10/2006 9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

they say you can tell a lot by eye contact but never thought of a glass eye. don't think i would know the difference and that's a good thing.

11/11/2006 9:26 AM  
Blogger goddess said...

I ask my kinds what they know about the subject I am introducing. Tell them the questions I'm going to ask them. Teach the lesson. Let them translate the lesson and questions for their friends. Then ask them the question again and they look at me like I'm speaking alien.

11/12/2006 10:35 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

"I believe that children are our future..."

11/12/2006 10:42 AM  
Blogger Jon Cox said...

Oh wow! Very interesting. :o)

11/12/2006 5:09 PM  
Blogger Keshi said...

so true and ty for the info!


11/12/2006 9:27 PM  
Blogger :P fuzzbox said...

It doesn't bother me when kids do it but when an adult doesn't look me in the eye it makes me think that they have something to hide.

11/13/2006 5:30 PM  
Blogger Carmel said...

Interesting! I've never found eye contact easy.

11/13/2006 6:48 PM  
Blogger sammyray said...

Brilliant post!!

Perhaps that's why we fall in love with certain people....they allow us to lok at them in the eye and think at the same time, unlike many others. LOL

P.S. I am not a scientist.

11/14/2006 10:03 PM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

I've seen other work on the "follow the eye direction" theory of detecting lies and it's bunk.

Sorry to use that term on your blog--I know it's a family site. But I call bunk like I see it.

-- david

11/15/2006 3:52 PM  
Anonymous mojotek said...

I DEFINITELY can't answer tough questions while looking at someone's face. But I never really thought about why.

If I had to look at the mug of that last guy in your post I don't think I'd ever be able to answer a question at all though.

11/17/2006 8:22 AM  

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Welcome to the blog that aims to examine the lighter side of science. From the paranormal to wacky inventions, to strange mysteries and goofy experiments, I cover it all. Thanks for stoping by science is always stranger than fiction


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