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Hannah Masterman, Colin Ellard, Roxane Itier; The stare-in-the-crowd effect in the real world: is direct gaze really detected faster than averted gaze?. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):1312. doi: 10.1167/10.7.1312.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Previous research has given support to the so-called “stare-in-the-crowd effect”, the notion that a direct gaze “pops out” in a crowd and can be more easily detected than averted gaze. This processing advantage is thought to be due to the importance of gaze contact for social interactions. However, these studies bore little ecological validity as they used search paradigms in which arrays of two-dimensional pairs of eyes were presented on a computer screen. The purpose of the present research was to investigate whether this processing advantage for direct gaze could be seen in more realistic settings such as in a virtual environment. Participants were required to locate the person with a direct (or averted) gaze presented amongst three other persons with averted (or direct) gaze. This was done either in 2D (on a flat computer screen), in 3D-no context (i.e. a blank virtual world) or in 3D with context (a virtual elevator). For the 3D conditions, participants wore a head-mounted display which immersed them in a virtual world. Results indicated slower reaction times when the task was done in three rather than two dimensions, and even slower RTs with the addition of meaningful context. No overall effect of target gaze was found but an interaction with target position was observed due to faster and more accurate detection of direct over averted gaze when targets were presented in the right visual field. When targets were in the far left visual field, however, the effect was reversed and averted gaze was more quickly detected than direct gaze. These findings suggest that detecting gaze direction in the real world mostly depends on spatial position. In other words, direct gaze does not always “pop-out”.
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