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Mareike Wieth, Monica S. Castelhano, John M. Henderson; I See What You See: Gaze Perception during Scene Viewing. Journal of Vision 2003;3(9):307. doi: 10.1167/3.9.307.
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Looking where another person is looking can guide our attention and provide us with useful information about our environment. For example, sensitivity to another person's gaze plays a functional role in social attention (Kleinke, 1986) and in the development of social awareness (Brooks & Meltzoff, 2002). Reflexive covert attentional orienting based on direction of gaze in schematic or photographed faces has also been shown to facilitate processing of visual stimuli in an observer (Friesen & Kingstone, 1998; Langton & Bruce, 1999). The current study investigated how another person's gaze direction may affect the orienting of a viewer's overt attention (i.e., eye movements). Participants' eye movements were recorded while they viewed a sequence of photographs that portrayed a janitor cleaning an office and stealing supplies (shown on a computer monitor). Participants' eye movements were compared between the actor's face and the object the actor was looking at (focused object) versus the actor's face and a non-focused control object (matched for size, saliency and general location in each picture). Results showed that when the actor's face was fixated, the next fixation was more likely to be in the direction of the focused object than any other direction. Analyses of scan paths revealed that viewers were more likely to saccade directly from the actor's face to the focused object than to the control object. Furthermore, when eye movement patterns did not show a direct saccade to the focused object, participants were nonetheless more likely to fixate the focused object than the control object within close temporal proximity of fixating the face. We conclude that during real-world scene perception, viewers are sensitive to an actor's direction of gaze and use it to help guide their own attention.
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