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Regine Armann, Isabelle Buelthoff; Sex matters when you ask the right question: What affects eye movements in face comparison tasks?. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):5. doi: 10.1167/7.9.5.
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Eye-tracking studies on face perception have mostly investigated observer's eye movement behavior when studying single faces. However, in day-to-day situations, humans also compare faces or try to match a person's face to a photograph. During comparison, facial information remains visually accessible. This frees observers from time and encoding constraints (Galpin & Underwood, 2005). Here, we present eye movement data of participants required to compare two faces that were presented side by side. We used (1) two different tasks (discrimination or categorization), and (2) two types of face stimuli: faces differing either in identity or in sex. In addition, we varied for (3) task difficulty i.e. the similarity of the two faces in a pair. Eye-fixations in predefined facial regions were recorded and analyzed, for example, with regards to their frequency and duration. Our findings reveal, for instance, that the eyes were fixated more often in the discrimination tasks (38% of all fixations) than in the categorization task (29%), while the total number of fixations increased significantly with increasing task difficulty (p [[lt]] 0.001 in all cases, N=20). Faces differing in sex were more difficult to discriminate than faces differing in identity (63 % versus 76 % correct responses), which was reflected by increased fixations to face pairs that differed in sex (14.4 versus 11.8 fixations per trial). Unexpectedly, we found a striking effect of tasks on performance measures, as over 80 % of participants could detect the more feminine of two faces (categorization task) even at the most similar level, but for the same face pairs their performance in a discrimination task was less than 30 % correct. Viewing behavior of male and female participants differed, but only when the sex of the faces was relevant for the task.
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