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David J. Kelly, Sebastien Miellet, Roberto Caldara; Cultural diversity in eye movements extends across biological and artificial visual categories. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):376. doi: 10.1167/9.8.376.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Since the seminal work of Yarbus (1967), it had long been thought that the information humans require to individuate conspecifics was extracted universally. More specifically, studies had consistently revealed systematic analytical sequences of fixations over the eyes and the mouth during face processing. These robust scanpaths observed in Western Caucasian (WC) observers suggested a universal, biologically-determined information extraction pattern for faces. However, contrary to intuition Blais et al. (2008) reported a strikingly different central fixation strategy in East Asian (EA) observers. Rather than fixating the eyes and mouth, EA observers predominantly fixated the nose. A possible explanation for these findings is that Easterners consider it rude to look a person in the eyes during social interaction (Argyle & Cook, 1976). By contrast, Westerners typically consider it rude to not make eye contact during social interaction. Thus, it is possible that the differences observed for faces will not extend to non-human face stimuli.
We investigated this hypothesis with human faces and two additional stimulus categories for which both groups of observers had comparably little visual experience: one biological (sheep faces) and one artificial (Greebles). Remarkably, WC and EA observers showed fixation differences for all three stimulus categories during both learning and recognition phases of an old/new recognition task. For human and sheep faces, WC observers fixated the eyes and mouth, whereas EA observers fixated centrally. Equally, marked fixation differences were found for Greebles. Overall, WC observers displayed an analytical processing style, fixating on individual features. EA observers' processing style was more holistic, with fixations in the centre of all stimuli. These findings suggest gaze avoidance alone cannot explain the central fixations for faces in EA observers. Critically, they show that cultural diversity in eye movements are not limited to human faces and may reflect more general feature-extraction differences between cultural groups.
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