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Helen Rodger, Caroline Blais, Roberto Caldara; First fixation toward the geometric center of human faces is common across tasks and culture. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):639. doi: 10.1167/10.7.639.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Cultural diversity in eye movements has been shown between East Asian (EA) and Western Caucasian (WC) observers across various face processing tasks: the recognition of upright and inverted faces, categorization by race and expression. Eye-tracking studies in humans have also consistently reported that first gaze fixations are biased toward the center of natural scenes or visual objects. However, whether such low level perceptual bias is universal remains to be established. To address this question, we re-examined the initial fixations of a large set of eye movement data of EA and WC observers performing diverse tasks: the learning and recognition of (1) upright and (2) inverted faces, (3) categorization by race, and (4) categorization of emotional expressions. In all experiments, to prevent anticipatory eye movement stategies and record a genuine location of the first fixation, we presented faces pseudorandomly in one of the four quadrants of a computer screen. We measured the mean Euclidian distance between the geometric center of each face stimulus and the center-of-gravity of the first saccade across tasks and observers. Consistent with previous visual search findings with objects, the first saccade directed the fovea towards the center-of-gravity of the target face, regardless of the culture of the observer or the task. Interestingly, we observed differences in the onset of the first saccade, with upright faces eliciting the fastest onset compared to inverted or emotionally expressive faces across both groups. The first fixation could relate to a basic visual function and universal human ability to localize objects in the visual environment, possibly representing the entry level for information processing. Top-down factors modulate the speed of preparatory saccades, but not their landing locations. Culture does not shape the landing location of the first fixation, but only modulates subsequent stages of information processing.
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