Gaze aversion: A response to cognitive or social difficulty?

Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, Fiona Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Citations (Scopus)


When asked questions, adults and children often avert their gaze at certain points within the interaction, especially when questions are difficult (Doherty-Sneddon, Bruce, Bonner, Longbotham, & Doyle, 2002; Glenberg, Schroeder, & Robertson, 1998). Gaze aversion may be a way of managing the cognitive load associated with the processing of visual environmental information, or it may serve to alleviate a negative social-emotional experience, such as the self-consciousness associated with, for example, a fear of failure. In the present study, thirty-six 8-year-olds were questioned either face to face or across a live video link. Questions varied in type (arithmetic, verbal reasoning, and autobiographical and episodic memory) and in difficulty. Children averted their gaze more during face-to-face questioning than during video-mediated questioning; however, question difficulty had a very strong influence on aversion in both interview conditions. It is concluded that although social factors play a role in children’s gaze aversion during pedagogical question–answer sequences, the primary function of averting gaze is to manage the cognitive load involved in the processing of environmental information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)727-733
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2005


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