Development of gaze aversion: qualitiative changes over the early school years


Doherty-Sneddon G, Phelps F & Clark J (2007) Development of gaze aversion: qualitiative changes over the early school years. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 25 (4), pp. 513-526.

Looking away from an interlocutors’ face during demanding cognitive activity can help adults and children answer challenging mental arithmetic and verbal-reasoning questions (Glenberg, Schroeder, & Robertson, 1998; Phelps, Doherty-Sneddon & Warnock, in press). Whilst such ‘gaze aversion’ (GA) is used far less by 5-year old school children, its use increases dramatically during the first years of primary education, reaching adult levels by 8-years of age (Doherty-Sneddon, Bruce, Bonner, Longbotham, & Doyle, 2002). The current study investigates whether developmental changes also occur in a qualitative aspect of GA - the direction of movement involved in GA shifts. Video data from 18 5-year-olds and 19 8-year-olds answering verbal and arithmetic questions were analysed for direction of GA. We found very different profiles of direction of GA across the two ages: whilst the 5-year-olds used predominantly rapid multi-directional ‘flicking’ movements and some sustained left lateral movements, the 8-year-olds used predominantly sustained rightward movements. It is concluded that, as well as quantitative increases in the use of GA across these age groups, there are concomitant qualitative changes in the nature of GA shifts. A model of human attention in face-to-face interaction is discussed as are implications for the assessment of children’s learning and development.

Gaze aversion; Child Development; Attention; Cognitive load; Learning; Gaze (Psychology); Learning, Psychology of; Child development; Problem-solving in children; Attention in children

British Journal of Developmental Psychology: Volume 25, Issue 4

Publication date30/11/2007
PublisherBritish Psychological Society