Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Effect of Gaze on Gaze Direction While Looking at Art

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Effect of Gaze on Gaze Direction While Looking at Art

Article excerpt

In highly controlled cuing experiments, conspecific gaze direction has powerful effects on an observer's attention. We explored the generality of this effect by using paintings in which the gaze direction of a key character had been carefully manipulated. Our observers looked at these paintings in one of three instructional states (neutral, social, or spatial) while we monitored their eye movements. Overt orienting was much less influenced by the critical gaze direction than what the cuing literature might suggest: An analysis of the direction of saccades following the first fixation of the critical gaze showed that observers were weakly biased to orient in the direction of the gaze. Over longer periods of viewing, however, this effect disappeared for all but the social condition. This restriction of gaze as an attentional cue to a social context is consistent with the idea that the evolution of gaze direction detection is rooted in social communication. The picture stimuli from this experiment can be downloaded from the Psychonomic Society's Archive of Norms, Stimuli, and Data, www.psychonomic.org/archive.

Gaze direction has evolved to become an incredibly salient and complex cue that helps to govern social interactions. Frischen, Bayliss, and Tipper (2007) have pointed out that the sensation of being observed is a familiar experience, implying, at least subjectively, that the gaze of others is a highly salient stimulus. Between friends, simple shifts in gaze can convey a host of information, from disapproval or annoyance to future intended actions. Neurophysiological experiments on nonhuman primates and neuroimaging studies on humans have confirmed the colloquial assumption that gaze is special, revealing the existence of a network in the superior temporal sulcus that is specialized for the perception of social stimuli, including biological motion and gaze direction (for a review, see Puce & Perrett, 2003). In addition, evidence has emerged to suggest that it is the eyes that make face processing in the brain special (Itier, Alain, Sedore, & McIntosh, 2007). The developmental literature converges on the claim that another's gaze direction can influence an observer's behavior. Hood, Willen, and Driver (1998) demonstrated that neonates as young as 3 months old will orient in the direction of an adult's gaze if they perceive an eye movement (see also Farroni, Mansfield, Lai, & Johnson, 2003), and Moore, Angelopoulos, and Bennett (1997) showed that infants at 9 months can orient in the direction of gaze based on static images. Observed gaze direction eventually informs higher order cognitive abilities, such as vocabulary acquisition (see, e.g., Morales et al., 2000). In addition, joint attention at 20 months has been shown to predict theory of mind abilities at 44 months (Charman, 2000), suggesting that gaze also informs social interactions.

Behavioral experiments on adults have demonstrated that others' gaze direction continues to be an important cue for social interactions and can act specifically as a powerful, biologically relevant attentional cue. Friesen and Kingstone (1998) were among the first to explore the effects of gaze cues on attention using a modified Posner cuing paradigm. Participants were presented with a schematic face stimulus at center, followed by the presentation of the pupils' looking either left or right. The participants were then presented with one of two possible targets on either the left or the right side of the screen, which they were asked to identify. Participants were faster when the target appeared in the gazed-at location than when it appeared in the opposite location, suggesting that gaze cues trigger a reflexive shift of attention. Researchers have shown that the shift of attention in response to gaze is rapid (Driver et al., 1999; Friesen & Kingstone, 1998; Langton & Bruce, 1999) and that it occurs even when participants are informed that the gaze cue is nonpredictive of target location (Friesen & Kingstone, 1998), two characteristics that are typically not seen together in response to centrally presented, meaningful, or informative attentional cues (Friesen & Kingstone, 2003). …

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