Discover why (Getty Images)
Discover why (Getty Images)
Discover why people struggle to maintain eye contact. (Getty Images)


We all know it can be hard to maintain eye contact. Sometimes, the other person is looking at us so intensely, we want to take a break from their gaze. Sometimes, the other person is avoiding our gaze so completely we feel foolish looking at them. Then there’s another reason, suggesting that avoiding eye contact is often a matter of necessity, not manners.

Researchers Shogo Kajimura and Michio Nomura at Kyoto University have found an intriguing explanation for why people sometimes have trouble maintaining eye contact when talking with another person face-to-face. In their paper published in the journal Cognition, they found that looking away is a method to keep one’s brain from overloading. They had volunteers play a word-association game, with some words more difficult than others. (In general, volunteers struggled both when a word didn’t suggest a ready option and when it presented an abundance of options, forcing them to make a choice.)

On the challenging questions, the fastest responses came when the volunteers broke eye contact. Quite simply, maintaining that connection uses brain power that might be applied to the task at hand. So next time someone looks away, remember that they may just need a moment to think.

To read more about this research, click here. Of course, some people have no trouble maintaining eye contact. Revisit the legendary staring contests of Conan O’Brien and his sidekick Andy Richter below.

—RealClearLife Staff