The purpose of this study was to address the lack of quantitative data on eye-to-face gaze (also known as eye contact) in the literature on pragmatic communication. The study focused on adolescents and young adults with traumatic brain injury (TBI), as gaze often is included in social skills intervention in this population.
Gaze times were calculated for participants with TBI (
= 16) and their typically developing (TD) peers (
= 16) engaged in 3-min extemporaneous conversations.
The TD group members looked at the face of their conversation partner an average of 62% of the time while listening and 43% of the time while speaking, versus 67% and 51%, respectively, for the TBI group. There were no significant between-groups differences in average gaze times, but the within-group variability was significantly greater in the TBI group.
As there was no evidence of a uniform trend in gaze times among participants with TBI, general intervention to increase eye contact does not appear warranted. Instead, goals must consider that gaze is a highly complex behavior, not necessarily indicative of attention to one's partner, and that there are potential reasons for gaze aversion in individuals with cognitive limitations.