Averting the gaze disengages the environment and facilitates remembering
When people are asked moderately difficult questions, they often avert their gazes. We report five experiments in which we documented this phenomenon. They demonstrate that (1) the frequency of gaze aversion is related to the difficulty of cognitive processing, (2) this behavior cannot be due solely to demand characteristics or embarrassment, and (3) the behavior is functional: Averting the gaze improves performance. We speculate that averting the gaze helps people to disengage from environmental stimulation and thereby enhances the efficiency of cognitive processing directed by nonenvironmental stimulation.