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Mark Vida, Daphne Maurer; Look me in the eye: A comparison of fine-grained sensitivity to eye contact between 8-year-olds and adults. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):449. doi: 10.1167/11.11.449.
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Adults perceive that a face is making eye contact with them when the actual fixation position is within a range of 2–4.5° to either side of the bridge of their nose (the cone of gaze) (Gamer & Hecht, 2007). Children as old as 11 years are less accurate than adults at judging whether someone is looking at their eyes or at another part of their face (Lord, 1974). Here, we developed a child-friendly procedure to compare the width and centering of the cone of gaze between 8-year-olds and adults (n = 18/group). Participants sat in front of a computer monitor on which they saw faces fixating the center of the camera lens and a series of surrounding positions (separated by 1.6°) to the left/right (horizontal blocks) or upward/downward (vertical blocks). Participants performed a 3AFC task in which they judged whether the model's gaze on each trial was direct, averted left (or up in vertical blocks), or averted right (or down). For each participant and block type, we fit a psychometric function to the proportion of each response type and calculated the width of the cone of gaze from the crossover points between the fitted “direct” function and the two other functions. The cone was wider in 8-year-olds (M = 7.19°) than adults (M = 6.23°), p < .02, and wider for the vertical (M = 7.62°) than the horizontal (M = 5.80°) axis, p < .001. In both age groups, the cones were centered around exactly direct gaze, whether the centering of each cone was measured from the maximum of the fitted “direct” function or the midpoint between the edges of the cone, with no difference between ages or directions, ps > .05. The results indicate for the first time that 8-year-olds are almost as good as adults in detecting deviations from direct gaze.
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