Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Staring Reality in the Face: A Comparison of Social Attention across Laboratory and Real World Measures Suggests Little Common Ground

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Staring Reality in the Face: A Comparison of Social Attention across Laboratory and Real World Measures Suggests Little Common Ground

Article excerpt

Humans preferentially attend to social cues, including people, faces, and eyes (e.g., Bindemann, Scheepers, Ferguson, & Burton, 2010; Birmingham, Bischof, & Kingstone, 2008, 2009b; Coutrot & Guyader, 2014; Rigby, Stoesz, & Jakobson, 2016; Wang, Tsuchiya, New, Hurlemann, & Adolphs, 2015). It is thought that this preference for social information forms one of the essential components of the complex human sociocognitive system, furnishing both relatively simple abilities like social perception (e.g., Boggia & Ristic, 2015; Hu, Chan, & McAlonan, 2010) as well as more complex behaviors like language and theory of mind (e.g., Baron-Cohen, 1995; Meyer & Baldwin, 2013). At the basic level, social attention, that is, attending to social cues, is facilitated by the uniquely salient morphology of the human eye, which allows for the easy reading of gaze signals (Kobayashi & Hashiya, 2011; Kobayashi & Kohshima, 1997). At a more complex level, those signals are imbued with social meaning and serve to enable understanding of other people's desires, intentions, and/or emotions (Baron-Cohen, 1995). Social attention emerges early in development (Farroni, Johnson, Brockbank, & Simion, 2000; Farroni, Massaccesi, Pividori, Simion, & Johnson, 2004; Hood, Willen, & Driver, 1998) and remains stable throughout life (Hayward & Ristic, 2013b; Ristic & Kingstone, 2009). As such, it has been related to many aspects of social function. For example, the magnitude of social attention has been found to be larger in individuals with higher social competence (Bayliss & Tipper, 2005; as indexed by the number of autism traits, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, 2001) and trait empathy (Alwall, Johansson, & Hansen, 2010), as well as modulated by person-specific factors, like trustworthiness (Süßenbach & Schönbrodt, 2014) and social status (Capozzi, Becchio, Willemse, & Bayliss, 2016; Dalmaso, Pavan, Castelli, & Galfano, 2012b).

Surprisingly, however, little is known about how the basic process of social attention relates to corresponding social attention operations during real-world social exchanges. This is because, despite the theoretically predicted connections (e.g., Adolphs, 1999; Baron-Cohen, 1995; Emery, 2000; Mason, Tatkow, & Macrae, 2005), investigations that have focused on measuring the basic social attention ability using laboratory tasks and those that have focused on understanding the complexities of social attention in the real world have so far proceeded in parallel, without much cross talk. The aim of this study was to begin bridging this knowledge gap.

To make these first strides, here we used typical laboratory and real-world procedures, and assessed whether the basic instances of social attention measured in the lab related to corresponding behaviors obtained during real-world social exchanges. To trace social attention from lab to life, we obtained measures of attentional engagement and attentional shifting within each situation (e.g., Posner, Walker, Friedrich, & Rafal, 1984). These functions were indexed using overt measures in naturalistic social interactions and using both overt and covert measures in the laboratory task.

The commitment of overt attention (i.e., attention executed with eye movements) is reflected in gaze patterns when participants' looking behavior and eye movements are measured (e.g., Birmingham, Bischof, & Kingstone, 2009a; Kuhn, Tatler, & Cole, 2009; for reviews see Frischen, Bayliss, & Tipper, 2007; Klein, Kingstone, & Pontefract, 1992). We assessed if overt measures of social attention engagement and shifting related across laboratory and real-world tasks.

The commitment of covert attention on the other hand (i.e., attention executed without eye movements) is reflected in manual performance when participants' eye movements are restricted (e.g., Bobak & Langton, 2015; Friesen & Kingstone, 1998; Friesen, Ristic, & Kingstone, 2004; Hayward & Ristic, 2013b). …

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