Is Your Child Avoiding Eye Contact? He May Be Anxious, Says New Study

According to the study, children pay more attention to potentially threatening information and situations.

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Children avoid eye contact when anxious
There is very little known about eye-gazing patterns in children. Pixabay
  • New research explores relationship between anxiety and a child’s response to fear
  • According to the study, anxious children tend to avoid eye contact when faced with difficulty

Riverside, August 18, 2017 : During a conversation, we often look at the eyes of a person for social cues- this helps us make sound judgments. Drawing on similar lines, a new research at University of California assessed the ‘eye-gazing’ patterns in children aged 9 to 14 and revealed that they give more attention to potentially threatening information, and that eye-contact in such situations is directly influenced by their anxiety levels.

According to a new research by Kalina Michalska, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, it has been revealed that anxious children tend to avoid making eye contact, which affects their experience and perception of fear. According to the study titled ‘Anxiety symptoms and children’s eye gaze during fear learning’ which has been published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, children are more likely to be afraid of people when they look into their eyes less frequently and for shorter spans, even when there may not be any reason to do so.

According to a report by ANI, Michalska believes that very little is known about the eye patterns in children. Observing someone’s eyes during a conversation helps us understand emotions the person is going through- whether the person is feeling sad, angry, fearful, or surprised. This in turn assists adults to make decisions about how to respond next. According to Michalska, understanding eye patterns in children “can help us learn more about the development of social learning.”

The Research

For the research, 82 children between the age group of 9 to 13 were shown images of two different women on a computer screen, four times each.

The computer screens were fitted with eye tracking devices that measured the point where the child focused his attention on the screen and for how long.

Later, one of the images was supplemented with loud screams and the other was not. At the end of the exercise, the children were shown both the faces again, with the absence of any sound or screams.

According to Michalska, the study aimed to know whether the child would spend more time looking at the eyes of the face that was paired with a scream than the face that was not paired with a scream, during the second phase.

For this, they examined the participants’ eye contact with the different faces on the computer screen in an attempt to determine “if children make more eye contact with someone who is associated with something bad or threatening,” she added. The experts also observed the relation between the children’s anxiety scores and the duration for which they made eye contact.

What Did The Research Conclude?

The study suggested that children pay more attention to potentially threatening information. This can be said as they paid more attention to the face when it was previously paired with something frightening.

The research found,

  • The children spent an increasing amount of time looking at the eyes of the face that was paired with loud screams. This suggests that they paid attention to potential threats in the absence of outward cues.
  • Children who were more anxious avoided eye-contact throughout the experiment. This shows that these children were afraid of the faces.
  • The more children avoided making an eye contact, the more they were afraid of the faces.

The research gathered that children paid increased attention in an attempt to learn more about the situation and to plan what to do next.

However, the research drew upon the understanding that a child avoiding eye contact may be suffering with anxiety, which in turn leads to an experience of greater fear.

Even though avoiding eye contact may reduce anxiety, the children indulging in this behavior can miss out on important information which may have further repercussions.


 

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