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Gaze Perception Triggers Reflexive Visuospatial Orienting

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This paper seeks to bring together two previously separate research traditions: research on spatial orienting within the visual cueing paradigm and research into social cognition, addressing our tendency to attend in the direction that another person looks. Cueing methodologies from mainstream attention research were adapted to test the automaticity of orienting in the direction of seen gaze. Three studies manipulated the direction of gaze in a computerized face, which appeared centrally in a frontal view during a peripheral letter-discrimination task. Experiments 1 and 2 found faster discrimination of peripheral target letters on the side the computerized face gazed towards, even though the seen gaze did not predict target side, and despite participants being asked to ignore the face. This suggests reflexive covert and/or overt orienting in the direction of seen gaze, arising even when the observer has no motivation to orient in this way. Experiment 3 found faster letter discrimination on the side the computerized face gazed towards even when participants knew that target letters were four times as likely on the opposite side. This suggests that orienting can arise in the direction of seen gaze even when counter to intentions. The experiments illustrate that methods from mainstream attention research can be usefully applied to social cognition, and that studies of spatial attention may profit from considering its social function.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 1999-10-01

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