Glazed looks sharpen the mind

There’s an interesting news report on the Nature website suggesting that gazing into the middle distance improves concentration.

Researchers at the University of Stirling in Scotland took a group of 25 five-year-olds and trained them to look away when they were being asked a question. The effect was a significant increase in correct answers to mental arithmetic questions, says Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, who led the research. She declined to give details as the work is in press with the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

It strikes me as a bit strange that someone would decline to give details because the paper is ‘in press’.

When a paper is ‘in press’ it means that it has been reviewed by independent scientists and declared to be worthy of publication.

It is standard practice for researchers give out ‘pre-prints’ of the research papers to anyone who asks at this stage and it is considered a little obstructive to refuse.

Despite this strangeness, it seems like an interesting study and I’ll look forward to reading it when it is finally published.

Link to news report from Nature.

4 thoughts on “Glazed looks sharpen the mind”

  1. Which direction is ‘away’? Up, down, to the left, to the right?
    Are the researchers saying that any direction apart from looking at the interviewer will get the results? I’m just concerned that they may have missed an important distinction.

  2. I think this study can be used to help understand the appearance of someone who is under the influence of marijuana. When one is high, very basic things can be encountered as conundrums. Perhaps the stoned person looks vacant because they are constantly needing to concentrate in order to solve what they perceive to be deep problems.

  3. Andy Smith’s question is exactly the right one. I recall work that must be thirty years old now about how you gaze in a direction that avoids distracting stimulation of the hemisphere faced with a task demand. People with mixed or reverse dominance can be expected to gaze in the opposite direction from their peers, and people can be expected to gaze in opposite directions for verbal memory vs. visuospatial task demands. I think this may have been Jonathan Davidson’s early work, or at least I learned of it from him. I seem to recall that neurolinguistic programming may take advantage of some of these factors in their popularized versions.

  4. I suspect that disengaging eye contact frees the brain from social and possible ‘authoritative’ constraints to some extent as well as the implied conclusion that a ‘glazed stare’ provides better focus.
    In any case pondering a question is probably best done with no distractions at all. The study is simply an exercise in how best to try to simulate that condition under distracting circumstances.

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