Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Problems looking at other people: Look at the Nose Instead

{{de|Die Wahrsagerin}}Image via Wikipedia
Can't look into the eyes?  Look at the Nose Instead!  A lot of folks on the Autism Spectrum have problems making and sustaining eye contact.   Here's a Reblog of an interesting article about looking at the nose.  

Fact is, looking at the nose is sometimes recommended, as in this popular job search site that serves college grads; The Nose on Their Face Technique. It states; "Another technique for maintaining eye contact. If you have difficulty maintaining eye contact due to discomfort at looking someone directly in the eyes, use this technique instead. Simply start at them directly in the nose. You will not have the discomfort of direct eye contact, yet the person you are speaking with will perceive that you are making eye contact (even though you are busily sizing up their nasal openings). Just make sure you don't become so preoccupied with nasal starting that you end up being distracted from the interview". I'll get back to the last line in a moment.

Let's do a quick review of eye contact using current science literature. Know that eye contact and its affects are being extensively studied {partly due to the fact the technology exists to measure these affects on the brain, much revealed in 2005.} To research this subject, I found specific studies to support each point in; Science News, Journal of Experimental Psychology, The Journal of Social Psychology, Vision, Brain and Cognition, NeuroImage and of course New Scientist and Scientific American. To keep this short I'll give my very crude summary opinions and support specific points if asked.

To start, we are born with a set of instincts that cause us to look at the human face. In a sense, we know we have human parents from birth. Newborns look for a longer time at faces that are right side up, faces that have their eyes open and faces that are more beautiful. One article; Newborns prefer faces with a direct gaze, states that "Newborn babies may not look particularly busy, but they're already hard at work building social proficiency. Consider that, according to a new report, 2-to-5-day-old infants already home in on faces that fix them with a direct gaze and devote less attention to faces with eyes that look to one side. What's more, in 4-month-olds, direct eye contact elicits enhanced brain activity associated with face perception". The studies concur that "eye-gaze" {staring} is normal for the baby; the eye is our starting point to learn the world we are born into.

It is interesting that babies can accurately look with their eyes years before they are able to accurately point with their finger. Knowing this, investigators can give very young children a pointer device {such as a simple rod} to accurately point. My sum is that we have accurate eye control from birth.

As the child's brain develops the eyes become more than an instrument for seeing things. The child's brain is begins to detect other's staring at his eyes and develops the ability to accurately gage where others are looking. This is tied to fear processing; enabling child protection. That is, the child will eventually know when he is endangered by looking at the eyes of a potential attacker {human or animal}; a direct stare, will first trigger fear. And in a group of people, he will instantly know from were an attacker is coming from, even if he can not see the attacker, by looking at the eyes of the person who spots the attacker.

It is clear from recent brain scans that we have separate neural circuitry that processes eye-gaze and the detection of intentions conveyed through shifts in eye-gaze. To say another way, we detect someone staring at us via this fear processing brain center. Our processing occurs before we are consciously aware and then, as be become aware, we evaluate and down grade our reaction as necessary. As the child grows the eyes are becoming part of social interactions. My point here is that a fixed eye-gaze is processed differently than shifts in eye-gaze. This is to say that a habit of focusing on any part of the face, eyes, nose or mouth... where there is no shift in eye-gaze, triggers the viewed in a sharp way; likely not the reaction we want in a social interaction.

Then know that studies as recent as last month {NeuroImage} show that young children primarily look at face expressions to gage emotions and that over time, this changes to where we primarily look at face expressions, to gage attention. It has been shown, that we remember much less from watching a video presentation where the presenter looks away from the camera than had we simply listened to an audio tape, of the same presentation. The effect of being looked at, triggers our attention. Notice well that the actors in a movie intentionally don't look at the camera, for even the slightest slip up, where an actor momentary looks, draws our attention. Newscasts purposefully stare directly into the camera and to really feel this effect, quite strange it is, stand close to a professional reporter who is going on air. When the camera light turns on, the professional reporter is socially removed from the bystanders and placed into a TV world. As a bystander your eye and muscle movements have no effect on that professional reporter.

So that was some history; that we have eye control from birth and as we grow, the use of face is constrained and facilitated by socialization processes in every society.

The affects of speaking in public are well demonstrated in the Personal Development forums. Fact is, that when we engage with another person(s) we have 100% of our available consciousness. That consciousness has to be divided between many things. For example, we have to be careful to keep our behavior and speaking as appropriate for the social situation. We have to listen and understand and think and ponder and weight and honor and respect and project and consider outcome and protect and hide and reveal and on and on. We maintain a social image and place and compete and day dream and be distracted and hear and see and smell and react and be proactive and feel and be self-aware and safe and worry and plan and review and do dozens of simple and complex processes that we hardly are aware of.

Fact is that everyone has 100% of his or her personal total to divide. If we spend most of that on being self-conscious that we are focusing on one facial feature we have little left. What we have left is spent thinking about the impact our focus is having on the other person, on our image, on our future, on how do I stop this, on and on. Notice that there is nothing left for the conversation. Again, it doesn't matter your intellectual gifts, your understanding of psychology, your education; as long as you spend most of your attention on one aspect of a communication, you are spent.

Now take your new awareness that you are spending most or all of your social interaction resources on the nose, that total distraction from the interview mentioned above, and amplify that awareness by others making fun. Every conversation after that, becomes the next nose. With the help of these well-meaning helpers, you can talk yourself into a hysteria of nose obsession. It's not about the nose!

A friend recently recalled an event. Years earlier she and her friend went to a movie where they got in free. I asked her; what was the movie? She laughed and commented that all she remembers was that it was free. The idea here is that when our attention is diverted to a novel experience our attention is diverted. We spend our social resources and have nothing left; 100% of any total is 100%.

Lastly, consider how harshly you are judging your behavior. You refer to it as "abnormal" when some recommend it. You worry about worrying and give the sense that hope waits at a helper's office. Your friends are helping you focus your attention; you help them by sharply judging and are getting lost in the mechanics of social interaction. Eye-gaze and the shifting of eye-gaze are natural and good. The 100% of attention that you are actively giving away still belongs to you.

You report that you became aware that you where nosy some time ago. My calendar says that time has past. Understand that the mechanics of social interaction at the conversation level between friends are simple and forgiving. This is about focusing attention and believing that focus is special; it is not. You are what you are; did that already. Time to move to the next drama. Realize that we all have these bouts with drama, drama that makes our lives more special.

Time is on your side. Step by step focus attention back to what is being said in a conversation. In social interactions the shift in eye-gaze has most value.

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