Page last updated at 00:28 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 01:28 UK

Gaze aversion helps pupils think

day dreaming pupil
Pupils who look away may not be simply daydreaming

Children who look away when problem solving may be more likely to come up with the right answer than those who do not, research has suggested.

A team from the University of Stirling studied the behaviour of 230 children and found looking away could be a sign of how deeply youngsters were thinking.

They also discovered that those who stared at teachers instead often had difficulty understanding a question.

The findings are being used to help teachers gauge a child's progress.

The study, which assessed children from across the Forth Valley and Glasgow, found those aged between five and eight were more likely to avert their gaze when carrying out a difficult task.

Children aged between four and six also showed similar results, although they were more likely to look at the questioner if they knew them well.

Dr Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, who led the study group, said: "These results are important because they show that children avert their gaze when they are trying to carry out a task which is difficult or with which they are not yet familiar.

"In our most recent work we have investigated whether gaze aversion is associated with transitional knowledge states.

"That means that gaze aversion is a useful thing for teachers, carers and parents to know about."

Dr Doherty-Sneddon said that from a teacher's point of view, gaze aversion was a positive sign that a child is developing their understanding.

By contrast, she said the study showed that children who are not improving or in fact regressing, tended to look away less.

The study is being used to help teachers and educational psychologists help youngsters with conditions like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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