Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Responding to the Direction of the Eyes: In Search of the Masked Gaze-Cueing Effect

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Responding to the Direction of the Eyes: In Search of the Masked Gaze-Cueing Effect

Article excerpt

Published online: 17 October 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Recent studies have demonstrated that masked gaze cues can produce a cueing effect. Those studies, however, all utilized a localization task and, hence, are ambiguous with respect to whether the previously observed masked gaze-cueing effect reflects the orienting of attention or the preparation of a motor response. The aim of the present study was to investigate this issue by determining whether masked gaze cues can modulate responses in detection and discrimination tasks, both of which isolate spatial attention from response priming. First, we found a gaze-cueing effect for unmasked cues in detection, discrimination, and localization tasks, which suggests that the gaze-cueing effect for visible cues is not task dependent. Second, and in contrast, we found a gaze-cueing effect for masked cues in a localization task, but not in detection or discrimination tasks, which suggests that the gaze-cueing effect for masked cues is task dependent. Therefore, the present study shows that the masked gaze-cueing effect is attributed to response priming, as opposed to the orienting of spatial attention.

Keywords Visual attention * Eye gaze * Masking * Attentional shifts * Response priming

The ability to follow a person's gaze is necessary for seamless social interactions, since it enables one to understand the underlying attitudes of others in the surrounding space, collaborate with others in the community, and assess potential threat in the environment (Jones etal., 2010). This capacity for gaze following is most commonly investigated in the labora- tory using variants of the Posner cueing task (Posner, 1980). In this paradigm, a centrally presented, uninformative face cue with averted left/right gaze can either validly or invalidly cue the location of a subsequently presented, peripheral target. Studies typically have shown that observers are faster to respond to validly than to invalidly cued targets, a phenome- non that is known as the gaze-cueing effect (Friesen & Kingstone, 1998). Researchers have emphasized that this effect reflects the spatial orienting of attention in response to the averted gaze, since it can be observed in the context of various experimental tasks, such as detection, localization, and discrimination (Driver et al., 1999; Friesen & Kingstone, 1998; Friesen, Ristic, & Kingstone, 2004). Recently, the question of whether or not the gaze-cueing effect could be obtained for cues presented subliminally has been investigated (Al-Janabi & Finkbeiner, 2012; Sato, Okada, & Toichi, 2007). The results ofthese studies have become part of a discussion regarding the role of visual awareness in orienting attention.

In the first study to look at how participants' awareness of the gaze cue affects the gaze-cueing effect, Sato, Okada, and Toichi (2007) used the spatial-cueing task with unmasked (supraliminal) and masked (subliminal) gaze cues. It was expected that a gaze-cueing effect would emerge for both unmasked and masked gaze cues on the assumption that individuals follow the gaze of others reflexively (Friesen & Kingstone, 1998; Langton & Brace, 1999). To test this assumption, Sato and colleagues (2007) asked participants to localize a disc shown to the left or right of fixation. A centrally presented, averted gaze cue was presented either supraliminally or subhminally (using backward masking) pri- or to the target. This averted gaze cue was uninformative of target location (50 % valid). Results showed that response latencies to localize the disc were faster for valid than invalid gaze cues in both unmasked and masked conditions, thereby suggesting that masked cues can produce a gaze-cueing effect. A potential problem of Sato et al. 's study, however, was that participants had viewed and practiced responding to the gaze cues in a prior "cue detection" task. Therefore, the masked cues may have yielded a gaze-cueing effect by virtue of being incorporated into a task set. …

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