22 September 2006

How To Think Better

Very simple. "Look away."

How's that again?

You read it correctly. If you need to think more efficiently, and need to come up with a correct answer the next time your smart friend or professor asks you an intellectually-overwhelming question, try looking away for a while.
Scientists have known that adults tend to turn their gaze away from a questioner's face when asked a thought-provoking question. While adults practice this look-away about 85 percent of the time, children five years old and younger do it just 40 percent of the time.

To find out how so-called "gaze aversion" impacts concentration, psychologists recruited 20 five-year-old children from a primary school in Stirlingshire. They trained 10 of the students to look away when pondering a question.

"We had them look at a blank piece of paper on the floor," said co-author Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, a psychologist at Stirling University in Scotland. The other 10 students received no training. Then, the scientists asked each child a series of math and verbal questions, ranging from easy to moderate level.

They found that the students instructed to look away answered 72 percent of the questions accurately, while the untrained group succeeded in answering only 55 percent correctly.

[SOURCE: LiveScience.com,12 Sept 2006 ]

If you're a keen observer and like watching music concerts, I'm sure you've also noticed skilled musicians and professional singers look away when they're at their best playing their instruments and singing their winning songs. I guess the mind works better at processing infomation when the eyes are fixed on something prosaic, like a blank wall, the floor, or the blue skies above.

For Teachers: Next time you ask a difficult question and the student you called averts your gaze and looks away, do not feel offended. He/She is probably thinking hard and figuring out the correct answer. Give them some time to process those thoughts.

For Students: Try doing it. 'Works excellent when your teacher asks you again for recitation in class, or when your loving Mom asks you where you've been last night.

12 reactions:

Sidney said...

I always thought that looking away was a sure sign that someone was lying ! ;-)

Dr. Emer said...

Correct, Sidney. Lying involves a great deal of thinking. ;-)

Anonymous said...

very interesting! thanks dr. emer!

Jam said...

I do this most of the time especially when I am reporting in front of the class. I didn't know it has some significant effect on my thinking. :-)

Iskoo said...


ngayon ko lang narinig na possible pala yun. looking away is thinking hard for answer. nice post

may said...

see, i was right. i used to do this in college. look away from the instructor, and look at some hot, handsome classmates :)

Dr. Emer said...

JAM: Now you do. :)

ISKOO: Welcome aboard! A few times it may also mean, "I'm stumped!" :)

MAY: So "hot and handsome classmates" were too prosaic for you? :)

toni said...

aha! i wish i had known this back in gradeschool. i would've come back with a witty reply to my teacher!


teacher: toni, what is the answer to question 7?

toni: (stands up... looks at the ceiling...)

teacher: wala ang sagot sa kisame!!!

Tani said...

what if my husband looks away when i ask him where he's been? hehehe... he better have a good answer. ;)

will consciously do this nga. thanks for the post. :)

MommyBa said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting study. I'll try to do this and maybe I'll be able to think better :)

Happy weekend!

ann said...

hhmmm..that's why my son is looking on the other side when I'm asking him to recite the multiplication table.

Hi Tani! I second the motion...hehehe.

Dr. Emer said...

TONI: Yes, I've heard that banter from teachers from way back. Maybe they should have been more considerate.

TANI: Usually, when it concerns simple matters like where has he been, what was he doing, etc., no great amount of thinking is necessary so 'looking-away' may not be that necessary. But when one is thinking of other answers instead of the right answer (read:lying), looking away may also be observed.

MOMMYBA: Sometimes it is involuntary . No extra effort needed. :)

ANN: Kids are natural honest thinkers. :)