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Robert O. Deaner, Stephen V. Shepherd, Jelena Ristic, Michael L. Platt; Familiarity accentuates gaze-following in women but not men. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):279. doi: 10.1167/6.6.279.
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People rapidly shift their attention in the direction other individuals are looking, following gaze in a manner suggestive of an obligatory and unmodifiable reflex. Recent studies indicate, however, that such gaze-following may be modulated by social variables, such as gender, social status, and state of arousal. We hypothesized that familiarity with the viewed individual should also influence gaze-following. Male and female human subjects viewed the face of a male looking left or right and then responded by pressing a keypad to indicate the location of a target appearing randomly left or right. Crucially, subjects in the experiment were drawn either from the same academic department as the individuals whose faces were used as gaze cues or from outside the department. Replicating previous studies, subjects followed gaze by more quickly responding when viewed gaze predicted the location of the target. However, female subjects from within the department showed significantly greater gaze-following than did females from outside the department; no differences were found between the two groups of males, or between males and females outside the department. In addition, females, but not males, showed greater gaze-following for individuals whom they reported seeing frequently within the department. These results suggest that both gender and familiarity influence the strength of social attention.
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