Mental State Attributions Mediate the Gaze Cueing Effect.
ABSTRACT: Understanding the mental states of our social partners allows us to successfully interact with the world around us. Mental state attributions are argued to underpin social attention, and have been shown to modulate attentional orienting to social cues. However, recent research has disputed this claim, arguing that this effect may arise as an unintentional side effect of study design, rather than through the involvement of mentalising processes. This study therefore aimed to establish whether the mediation of gaze cueing by mental state attributions generalises beyond the specific experimental paradigm used in previous research. The current study used a gaze cueing paradigm within a change detection task, and the gaze cue was manipulated such that participants were aware that the cue-agent was only able to 'see' in one condition. The results revealed that participants were influenced by the mental state of the cue-agent, and were significantly better at identifying if a change had occurred on valid trials when they believed the cue-agent could 'see'. The computation of the cue-agent's mental state therefore mediated the gaze cueing effect, demonstrating that the modulation of gaze cueing by mental state attributions generalises to other experimental paradigms.
Project description:For effective social interactions with other people, information about the physical environment must be integrated with information about the interaction partner. In order to achieve this, processing of social information is guided by two components: a bottom-up mechanism reflexively triggered by stimulus-related information in the social scene and a top-down mechanism activated by task-related context information. In the present study, we investigated whether these components interact during attentional orienting to gaze direction. In particular, we examined whether the spatial specificity of gaze cueing is modulated by expectations about the reliability of gaze behavior. Expectations were either induced by instruction or could be derived from experience with displayed gaze behavior. Spatially specific cueing effects were observed with highly predictive gaze cues, but also when participants merely believed that actually non-predictive cues were highly predictive. Conversely, cueing effects for the whole gazed-at hemifield were observed with non-predictive gaze cues, and spatially specific cueing effects were attenuated when actually predictive gaze cues were believed to be non-predictive. This pattern indicates that (i) information about cue predictivity gained from sampling gaze behavior across social episodes can be incorporated in the attentional orienting to social cues, and that (ii) beliefs about gaze behavior modulate attentional orienting to gaze direction even when they contradict information available from social episodes.
Project description:Humans attend to social cues in order to understand and predict others' behavior. Facial expressions and gaze direction provide valuable information to infer others' mental states and intentions. The present study examined the mechanism of gaze following in the context of participants' expectations about successive action steps of an observed actor. We embedded a gaze-cueing manipulation within an action scenario consisting of a sequence of naturalistic photographs. Gaze-induced orienting of attention (gaze following) was analyzed with respect to whether the gaze behavior of the observed actor was in line or not with the action-related expectations of participants (i.e., whether the actor gazed at an object that was congruent or incongruent with an overarching action goal). In Experiment 1, participants followed the gaze of the observed agent, though the gaze-cueing effect was larger when the actor looked at an action-congruent object relative to an incongruent object. Experiment 2 examined whether the pattern of effects observed in Experiment 1 was due to covert, rather than overt, attentional orienting, by requiring participants to maintain eye fixation throughout the sequence of critical photographs (corroborated by monitoring eye movements). The essential pattern of results of Experiment 1 was replicated, with the gaze-cueing effect being completely eliminated when the observed agent gazed at an action-incongruent object. Thus, our findings show that covert gaze following can be modulated by expectations that humans hold regarding successive steps of the action performed by an observed agent.
Project description:Eye contact plays a key role in social interaction and is frequently reported to be atypical in individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASCs). Despite the importance of direct gaze, previous functional magnetic resonance imaging in ASC has generally focused on paradigms using averted gaze. The current study sought to determine the neural processing of faces displaying direct and averted gaze in 18 males with ASC and 23 matched controls. Controls showed an increased response to direct gaze in brain areas implicated in theory-of-mind and gaze perception, including medial prefrontal cortex, temporoparietal junction, posterior superior temporal sulcus region, and amygdala. In contrast, the same regions showed an increased response to averted gaze in individuals with an ASC. This difference was confirmed by a significant gaze direction × group interaction. Relative to controls, participants with ASC also showed reduced functional connectivity between these regions. We suggest that, in the typical brain, perceiving another person gazing directly at you triggers spontaneous attributions of mental states (e.g. he is "interested" in me), and that such mental state attributions to direct gaze may be reduced or absent in the autistic brain.
Project description:Most experimental protocols examining joint attention with the gaze cueing paradigm are "observational" and "offline", thereby not involving social interaction. We examined whether within a naturalistic online interaction, real-time eye contact influences the gaze cueing effect (GCE). We embedded gaze cueing in an interactive protocol with the iCub humanoid robot. This has the advantage of ecological validity combined with excellent experimental control. Critically, before averting the gaze, iCub either established eye contact or not, a manipulation enabled by an algorithm detecting position of the human eyes. For non-predictive gaze cueing procedure (Experiment 1), only the eye contact condition elicited GCE, while for counter-predictive procedure (Experiment 2), only the condition with no eye contact induced GCE. These results reveal an interactive effect of strategic (gaze validity) and social (eye contact) top-down components on the reflexive orienting of attention induced by gaze cues. More generally, we propose that naturalistic protocols with an embodied presence of an agent can cast a new light on mechanisms of social cognition.
Project description:Observing others' gaze is most informative during social encounters between humans: We can learn about potentially salient objects in the shared environment, infer others' mental states and detect their communicative intentions. We almost automatically follow the gaze of others in order to check the relevance of the target of the other's attention. This phenomenon called gaze cueing can be conceptualized as a triadic interaction involving a gaze initiator, a gaze follower and a gaze target, i.e., an object or person of interest in the environment. Gaze cueing can occur as "gaze pointing" with a communicative or "social" intention by the initiator, telling the observer that she/he is meant to follow, or as an incidental event, in which the observer follows spontaneously without any intention of the observed person. Here, we investigate which gaze cues let an observer ascribe a social intention to the observed person's gaze and whether and to which degree previous eye contact in combination with an object fixation contributes to this ascription. We varied the orientation of the starting position of gaze toward the observer and the orientation of the end position of a lateral gaze shift. In two experiments participants had to infer from the gaze behavior either mere approach ("the person looked at me") vs. a social ("the person wanted to show me something") or a social vs. a private motivation ("the person was interested in something"). Participants differentially attributed either approach behavior, a social, or a private intention to the agent solely based on the passive observation of the two specific gaze cues of start and end position. While for the attribution of privately motivated behavior, participants relied solely on the end position of the gaze shift, the social interpretation of the observed behavior depended additionally upon initial eye contact. Implications of these results for future social gaze and social cognition research in general are discussed.
Project description:Faces that consistently shifted the gaze to subsequent target locations in a gaze cueing task were chosen as being more trustworthy than faces that always looked away from the target, suggesting that the validity of a gaze cue influenced the viewers' judgments regarding the trustworthiness of human faces. We investigated whether the gaze cueing effect and judgments regarding the personality conveyed by a face would be affected by the valence of a target. A face image moved its eyes to the left or the right, and an emotional target image (positive, negative, or neutral) appeared to left or right of the face. Participants had to indicate the location of this target by pressing a key. The target image was preceded by a face that shifted its gaze to the target image (valid cue), a face that directed its gaze to the opposite side (invalid cue), or a face that did not move its eyes (no cue). The perceived trustworthiness of the face was evaluated after the gaze-cueing task. Results showed that faces that looked at positive targets were evaluated as more trustworthy than faces that looked at negative targets. However, the valence of the targets did not affect trustworthiness ratings in invalid and no-cue conditions. We suggest that integrated information about the predictability of the gaze cue and the valence of the gaze target modulates impressions about the personality of the face.
Project description:Gaze direction is an important social communication tool. Global and local visual information are known to play specific roles in processing socially relevant information from a face. The current study investigated whether global visual information has a primary role during gaze-cued orienting of attention and, as such, may influence quality of interaction. Adults performed a gaze-cueing task in which a centrally presented face cued (valid or invalid) the location of a peripheral target through a gaze shift. We measured brain activity (electroencephalography) towards the cue and target and behavioral responses (manual and saccadic reaction times) towards the target. The faces contained global (i.e. lower spatial frequencies), local (i.e. higher spatial frequencies), or a selection of both global and local (i.e. mid-band spatial frequencies) visual information. We found a gaze cue-validity effect (i.e. valid versus invalid), but no interaction effects with spatial frequency content. Furthermore, behavioral responses towards the target were in all cue conditions slower when lower spatial frequencies were not present in the gaze cue. These results suggest that whereas gaze-cued orienting of attention can be driven by both global and local visual information, global visual information determines the speed of behavioral responses towards other entities appearing in the surrounding of gaze cue stimuli.
Project description:Three experiments explored attention to eye gaze, which is incompletely understood in typical development and is hypothesized to be disrupted in autism. Experiment 1 (n = 26 typical adults) involved covert orienting to box, arrow, and gaze cues at two probabilities and cue-target times to test whether reorienting for gaze is endogenous, exogenous, or unique; experiment 2 (total n = 80: male and female children and adults) studied age and sex effects on gaze cueing. Gaze cueing appears endogenous and may strengthen in typical development. Experiment 3 tested exogenous, endogenous, and gaze-based orienting in 25 typical and 27 Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) children. ASD children made more saccades, slowing their reaction times; however, exogenous and endogenous orienting, including gaze cueing, appear intact in ASD.
Project description:Past research has shown that position in a social hierarchy modulates one's social attention, as in the gaze cueing effect. While studies have manipulated the social status of others with whom the participants interact, we believe that a sense of one's own social power is also a crucial factor affecting gaze following. In two experiments, we primed the social power of participants, using different approaches, to investigate the participants' performance in a subsequent gaze cueing task. The results of Experiment 1 showed a stronger gaze cueing effect among participants who were primed with low social power, compared to those primed with high social power. Our predicted gender difference (i.e., women showing a stronger gaze cueing effect than men) was confirmed and this effect was found to be dominated by the lower social power condition. Experiment 2 manipulated the level of danger in the context and replicated the joint impact of gender and one's perceived social power on gaze cueing effect, especially in the low danger context, in comparison to the high danger context. These findings demonstrate that one's perceived social power has a concerted effect on social attention evoked by gaze, along with other factors such as gender and characteristics of the environment, and suggest the importance of further research on the complex relationship between an individual's position in the social hierarchy and social attention.
Project description:Humans shift their attention to follow another person's gaze direction, a phenomenon called gaze cueing. This study examined whether a particular social factor, intergroup threat, modulates gaze cueing. As expected, stronger responses of a particular in-group to a threatening out-group were observed when the in-group, conditioned to perceive threat from one of two out-groups, was presented with facial stimuli from the threatening and non-threatening out-groups. These results suggest that intergroup threat plays an important role in shaping social attention. Furthermore, larger gaze-cueing effects were found for threatening out-group faces than for in-group faces only at the 200 ms but not the 800 ms stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA); the specificity of the gaze-cueing effects at the short SOA suggests that threat cues modulate the involuntary component of gaze cueing.