Majesty of Eye Contact

While speaking, maintaining strong eye contact is not only a result of feeling confident.  It also seems to help maintain smooth speech. Why is that?  Does it have a vocal connected or neurological effect of some kind?  Does it reinforce focus that is an important element for maintaining smooth speech? Appreciate any thoughts.  

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Majesty of Eye Contact — 2 Comments

  1. Dear Ron,

    Again, I love your questions. They are really thoughtful.

    Eye contact is something that might do many things. You mentioned confidence, which I would have to agree in a general sense. I would assume that most people who can create appropriate eye contact have a sense of confidence in that speaking situation. This might sound vague and general, but we also don’t want to assume that across all people and speaking situations.

    For example, I have known many people who stutter who will hold your gaze while in long moments of disfluency. Were some confident? Yes. Were some not confident while having long moments of disfluency? Yes. I know this because of conversations with these individuals where they shared their feelings and thoughts about different speaking situations and their behaviors related to speaking (including eye contact).

    I don’t know of any neurological effects of eye contact and smooth speech. That being said, when helping people who stutter who do not use “appropriate” social eye contact, we want to discuss what this means to them? Talk about eye contact in terms of communication and what might feel comfortable to them . Changes and adjustments to communication are not entirely up the the SLP, but changes and adjustments start with the person who stutters. So if a person feels they would be more effective with communication if they practiced appropriate eye contact, even while they had moments of stuttering, then SLPs can help them with that. This is where a strong background and comfort with counseling and communication skills is important.

    Thanks again Ron! Great questions!
    Be well.
    With compassion and kindness,
    Scott

  2. Ron,

    Your questions are absolutely so thought-provoking and simply amazing! Thank you so much for posting! With that, I agree with Scott in his stating that eye contact can surely instill confidence with communication in a given speaker (even speakers who do not stutter for that matter). For example, when I was a kid and I was being scolded, my father would ask me, “well, what do you have to say” and I would often look down (not look him in the eyes in those moments) while answering. I also strongly agree that eye contact starts with the person who stutters and preference. I have not written a therapeutic goal for eye contact in years unless a communicator (person I have the opportunity to serve in therapy) explicitly requests it for a given reason as an area they would like to address. I now stutter (not overtly prominently- primarily when I am tired or my brain is overstimulated) because of a brain injury. Before I stuttered, my eye contact as a “fluent” speaker wasn’t staged or specific, it varied, I was distracted at times as typical communicators are, etc. So- this truly is an area left up to the person who stutters themselves and preference.

    From a neurologic/cognitive standpoint the only area I can think of to comment on regarding eye contact is that of sustained attention. If you are a person who stutters (I am trying to remember if you said this or alluded to this in a previous question and I am not sure that you did) or have seen a decrease in the frequency of disfluencies in a person you see for therapy when direct eye contact/focused eye contact is made during conversation, perhaps it may have to do with sustained attention. If someone is focused on the conversation, and only the conversation, with their eye gaze specific on the listener, then perhaps cognitively they are more able to think about their speech output, and in turn employ any kind of thought process, strategies or communication confidence in their mind within this sustained cognitive attention/focus during the conversation. That would be the only thing that I can think of if you see a decrease in a particular person’s disfluencies with eye contact usage. However, with this statement, I will say that this can probably vary as the nature of stuttering is the frequency of disfluencies eb and flow and are more or less episodically so perhaps a decrease in disfluencies doesn’t always happen with sustained attention and prolonged use of eye contact. This would be something that would truly need like a research study or data to it, however, with stuttering being so individualized in experience- it would be extremely hard to generalize a statement regarding sustained eye contact, attention and frequency of disfluencies. You do have such a thought provoking question, however, and it sure did get me thinking outside the box so to speak. But I will, to wrap this up go back to paralleling Scott’s response: it goes back to the person who stutters and their preference re: eye contact, what they want in therapy and steering where that goes. 🙂 Be well, and thanks again for these amazing questions! Take care.
    Thanks,
    Steff

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