Download "Social Saliency of the Cue Slows Attention Shifts"

Eye gaze is a powerful cue that indicates where another person’s attention is directed in
the environment. Seeing another person’s eye gaze shift spontaneously and reflexively
elicits a shift of one’s own attention to the same region in space. Here, we investigated
whether reallocation of attention in the direction of eye gaze is modulated by personal
familiarity with faces. On the one hand, the eye gaze of a close friend should be more
effective in redirecting our attention as compared to the eye gaze of a stranger. On
the other hand, the social relevance of a familiar face might itself hold attention and,
thereby, slow lateral shifts of attention. To distinguish between these possibilities, we
measured the efficacy of the eye gaze of personally familiar and unfamiliar faces as
directional attention cues using adapted versions of the Posner paradigm with saccadic
and manual responses. We found that attention shifts were slower when elicited by
a perceived change in the eye gaze of a familiar individual as compared to attention
shifts elicited by unfamiliar faces at short latencies (100 ms). We also measured simple
detection of change in direction of gaze in personally familiar and unfamiliar faces to
test whether slower attention shifts were due to slower detection. Participants detected
changes in eye gaze faster for familiar faces than for unfamiliar faces. Our results suggest
that personally familiar faces briefly hold attention due to their social relevance, thereby
slowing shifts of attention, even though the direction of eye movements are detected
faster in familiar faces.

Leave a Reply