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Sébastien Miellet, Roberto Caldara; When East meets West: gaze-contingent Blindspots abolish cultural diversity in eye movements for faces. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):703. doi: 10.1167/10.7.703.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Eye movement strategies deployed by humans to identify conspecifics are not universal. Although recognition accuracy is comparable, Westerners predominantly fixate the eyes during face recognition, whereas Easterners fixate the nose region. We recently showed with a novel gaze-contingent technique - the Spotlight - that when information outside central vision (2° and 5°) is restricted, observers of both cultures actively fixated the same face information during face recognition: the eyes and mouth. Only when both eye and mouth information were simultaneously available by fixating the nose region (8°), did East Asian observers shift their fixations towards this location - a strategy similar to natural viewing conditions. Therefore, the central fixation pattern deployed by Easterners during face processing suggests better use of extrafoveal information while looking at faces, an issue that remains yet to be clarified.
Here, we addressed this question by monitoring eye movements of Western Caucasian and East Asian observers during face recognition with a novel technique that parametrically restricts central vision information: the Blindspot. We used both natural vision and Blindspot conditions with Gaussian apertures of 2°, 5° or 8° dynamically centered on observers' fixations. Face recognition performance deteriorated with increasing Blindspot apertures in both observer groups. Interestingly, Westerners deployed a strategy that shifted progressively towards the typical East Asian central fixation pattern with increasing Blindspot apertures (see supplementary figure). In contrast, East Asian observers maintained their culturally preferred central fixation location pattern, showing better performance under unnatural viewing conditions relative to Westerners.
Collectively, these findings show that restricting foveal information induces an Eastern-style strategy amongst Westerners while restricting extrafoveal information induces a Western-style strategy amongst Easterners. Overall, these observations show that the central fixation pattern used by Easterners relies on a better use of extrafoveal information. Cultures shapes how people look at faces and sculpts visual information intake.
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