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Tian Xu, Chen Yu; Dynamic Attention Shifting in Natural Human-Human Interaction. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):476. doi: 10.1167/11.11.476.
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We designed an experiment to examine dynamic attention allocation in real-time human-human interaction. In our study, a participant and a confederate sat across a table with multiple visual objects. Participants were asked to engage and attract the confederate's attention to the target object of his own interest. The confederate was instructed to sometimes follow the participant's bid of attention (thus joint attention) and look away in other moments. In this face-to-face everyday attentional task, moment-by-moment eye movements generated by participants were complex and served several roles for internal cognitive processes from facilitating visually guided manual actions on target objects, to generating mutual gaze with the confederate, and to monitoring and using the confederate's gaze to infer his visual attention. Several dynamic eye movement patterns were discovered based on eye and hand movement data from 40 participants: 1) Participants mainly focused on manipulating objects, and spent more time fixating on the target objects than on the confederate's face. 2) However, at those moments that the confederate switched his attention (either following or not following), most often participants quickly switched their gaze from the target object to the confederate's face. This suggests while participants focused on the target object as a part of eye-head-hand coordination to reach for and manipulate visual objects on the table, they also simultaneously used their peripheral vision to monitor the confederate's reaction to his/her bid of the confederate's attention and respond to the confederate's reactions. 4) The exact timing of this attention switch was at around 700 ms after the onset of the confederate's attention shift. 5) In those cases that participants didn't switch their attention to the confederate's face, they involuntarily moved their gaze toward the face indicated by a decrease of the distance between their gaze location and the center of the face.
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