Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Spatial Orienting of Tactile Attention Induced by Social Cues

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Spatial Orienting of Tactile Attention Induced by Social Cues

Article excerpt

Several studies have established that humans orient their visual attention reflexively in response to social cues such as the direction of someone else's gaze. However, the consequences of this kind of orienting have been addressed only for the visual system. We investigated whether visual social attention cues can induce shifts in tactile attention by combining a central noninformative eye-gaze cue with tactile targets presented to participants' fingertips. Data from speeded detection, speeded discrimination, and signal detection tasks converged on the same conclusion: Eye-gaze-based orienting facilitates the processing of tactile targets at the location of the gazed-at body location, In addition, we examined the effects of other directional cues, such as conventional arrows, and found that they can be equally effective. This is the first demonstration that social attention cues have consequences that reach beyond their own sensory modality.

Everyday experience reveals that humans are strongly compelled to orient their attention according to socially meaningful cues, such as the eye gaze of others. For instance, several researchers have proposed the existence of specialized brain mechanisms that are devoted to determining where other people are looking and to quickly shift attention there (Baron-Cohen, 1994; Perrett & Emery, 1994). In line with these proposals, several findings highlight the role that spatial cues based on eye gaze play in orienting visual attention in infants (Hood, Willen, & Driver, 1998; Maurer, 1985; Scaife & Bruner, 1975) and adults (Driver et al., 1999; Friesen & Kingstone, 1998; Langton & Bruce, 1999; Ricciardelli, Baylis, & Driver, 2000; Ricciardelli, Bricolo, Aglioti, & Chelazzi, 2002; Ristic, Friesen, & Kingstone, 2002).

Several recent findings have revealed that social orienting of attention extends to other types of cues, such as finger-pointing cues (see, e.g., Langton & Bruce, 1999) and even more arbitrary (but socially meaningful) cues such as conventional arrows (Friesen, Ristic, & Kingstone, 2004; Ristic et al., 2002; Tipples, 2002). Although there is some contention about the mechanisms that subserve orienting to biologically salient cues in comparison with more conventional cues, the attention effects triggered by these social signals have raised interesting questions regarding the classical conception of spatial attention mechanisms (see, e.g., Kingstone, Smilek, Ristic, Friesen, & Eastwood, 2003; Langton, Watt, & Bruce, 2000). The "standard" view, for instance, was that centrally presented cues (i.e., cues that did not bear spatial overlap with the potential target location) had to be informative as to the likely location of a target before attention would be committed to it-that is, the attentional shift to central cues was volitional rather than reflexive (Jonides, 1981 ; Klein, Kingstone, & Pontefract, 1992; Posner, 1978).1

Interestingly, the consequences of orienting to socially meaningful cues do not conform strictly to either of the two classic categories of reflexive and volitional attention (see, e.g., Friesen et al., 2004; Kingstone, Friesen, & Gazzaniga, 2000; Langton et al., 2000). Like the standard reflexive attention effect, gaze stimuli have been shown to induce rapid attentional shifts regardless of their informational value (i.e., when the cues are not predictive, and even when they are counterpredictive, of the target location; see, e.g., Driver et al., 1999; Friesen & Kingstone, 1998; Friesen et al., 2004; Langton et al., 2000). However, as in the standard volitional effect, these cues appear at central fixation (i.e., they do not bear spatial overlap with the potential location of the target) and induce long-lasting attentional shifts. Moreover, they do not result in a period of decreased sensitivity at the attended location, as is the case for the standard investigations of the reflexive inhibition-of-return (IOR) effect (see Friesen & Kingstone, 2003). …

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