The Daily Mail reports on the results of a study. It reveals that children actually do better at school if they stare out of the window instead of focusing constantly on the teacher.
Despite appearances, they are concentrating hard on their work or trying to learn something, it found. Teachers are being asked to check whether youngsters are staring into space often enough to consolidate their learning. Those who look away from others at points during a lesson are likely to have a better understanding than pupils who do so less often, say University of Stirling researchers.
They observed more than 230 children, aged from five to early adulthood, and found that apparent daydreamers did better in tests and problem-solving tasks such as balancing a beam with asymmetrical loads. Youngsters aged four to six, for example, were more likely to avert their gaze when carrying out a task they found difficult, or that was new, but looked away less if being tested by someone they knew. For older children, so-called 'gaze aversion' was linked to the complexity of the task in hand, rather than familiarity with the tester.
This result held across a range of different tasks, the researchers 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,' said Dr Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, whose research was financed by the Economic and Social Research Council. 'That means that gaze aversion is a useful thing for teachers, carers and parents to know about.'
From the point of view of teachers, gaze aversion can be a 'positive sign'. Children who used it were more likely to be termed 'improvers' by Dr Doherty-Sneddon. By contrast, children who were not improving their performance, or were going backwards, used it less often.
The researchers believe paying attention distracts children because their brains are too busy trying to interpret visual cues from the teacher. They believe the findings can help teachers understand the mental state of pupils with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.