In the study, subjects "sat facing three loudspeakers arranged in front of them in a darkened, soundproof room. They were instructed to follow sounds from one of the loudspeakers while ignoring sounds from the other two loudspeakers. . . . instructed to look away from the attended loudspeaker" in an aural comprehension task. What they found was that " . . . participants’ reaction times were slower when they were instructed to look away from the attended loudspeaker . . . this was also accompanied by an increase in oscillatory neural activity . . . "
Look . . I realize that the connection to (haptic) pronunciation teaching may not be immediately obvious, but it is potentially significant. For example, we know from several research studies (e.g., Molloy et al. 2015) that visual tends to override or "trump" audio--in "head to head" competition in the brain. In addition, auditory generally trumps kinesthetic, but the two together may override visual in some contexts. Touch seems to be able to complement the strength or impact of the other three or serve to unite them or integrate them in various ways. (See the two or three dozen earlier blog posts on those and related issues.)
In this study, you have three competing auditory sources with the eyes tracking to one as opposed to the others. Being done in a dark room probably helped to mitigate the effect of other possible visual distraction. It is not uncommon at all for a student to chose to close her eyes when listening or look away from a speaker (a person, not an audio loudspeaker as in the study). So this is not about simply paying attention visually. It has more to do with eyes either being focused or NOT.
Had the researchers asked subjects to gaze at their navels--or any other specific object--the results might have been very different. In my view the study is not valid just on those grounds alone, but still interesting in that subjects' gaze was fixed at all.) Likewise, there should have been a control group that did the same protocols with the lights on, etc. In effect, to tell subjects to look away was equivalent to having them try to ignore the target sound and attend to it at the same time. No wonder there was " . . . an increase in oscillatory neural activity"! Really!
In other words, the EYEs have it--the ability to radically focus attention, in this case to sound, but to images as well. That is, in effect, the basis of most hypnosis and good public speaking, and well-established in brain research. In haptic pronunciation teaching, the pedagogical movement patterns by the instructor alone should capture the eyes of the students temporarily, linking back to earlier student experience or orientation to those patterns.
So try this: Have students fix their eyes on something reasonable or relevant, like a picture or neutral, like an area on the wall in front of them--and not look away--during a listening task. Their eyes should not wander, at least not much. Don't do it for a very long period of time , maybe 30 seconds, max at the start. You should explain to them this research so they understand why you are doing it. (As often as I hammer popular "Near-ol'-science", this is one case where I think the general findings of the research are useful and help to explain a very common sense experience.)
I have been using some form of this technique for years; it is basic to haptic work except we do not specifically call attention to the eye tracking since the gestural work naturally accomplishes that to some degree. (If you have, too, let us know!)
This is particularly effective if you work in a teaching environment that has a lot of ambient noise in the background. You can also, of course, add music or white noise to help cancel out competing noise or maybe even turn down the lights, too, as in the research. See what I mean?
Good listening to you!
UCL (2017, July 5). Gaze Direction Affects Sound Sensitivity. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved July 5, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/sound-sensitivity-gaze-direction-7029/
Molloy, K, Griffiths, D., Chait, Lavie, N. Inattentional Deafness: Visual Load Leads to Time-Specific Suppression of Auditory Evoked Responses. Journal of Neuroscience, 2015; 35 (49): 16046 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2931-15.2015