Cognitive Daily – What are we doing when we look away during a conversation?
In face to face conversation, we often look away from the person we’re speaking with. Somewhat paradoxically, the closer people sit to their conversation companions, the less often they look at them.
But other factors influence how often we avert our gaze, too. When we are asked personal questions, or difficult questions, or possibly when we are trying to deceive, we look away more often. When we talk with someone via a remote video monitor, we look at them more often than when we engage in the same type of conversation face to face.
So what’s the cause of this behavior? Do several different causes lead to looking away, or is the root cause the same for all of them? Perhaps we look away when we are feeling socially challenged. After all, difficult questions, or social intimacy, or the heightened social awareness involved in deceiving others could all lead to the same feeling of being put on the spot.
But another explanation is possible at least some of the time. We get a great deal of information by looking at faces, and this information places a significant load on our cognitive systems. Perhaps, when we’re asked a difficult question and need to concentrate, looking away from a face helps us focus on the cognitive demands of the question.