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Kaitlin Laidlaw, Evan Risko, Alan Kingstone; Don't look! Orienting to the eyes is not (entirely) under volitional control. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):620. doi: 10.1167/11.11.620.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
People look at eyes more than other facial features. What is unknown is if this bias is automatically or volitionally driven. We used a unique “Don't Look” paradigm to discriminate between these two alternatives. Participants were asked to freely view a series of faces or to avoid looking at either the eyes or the mouth of the faces. The free viewing data replicated previous results that people normally tend to fixate the eyes of faces. When asked to avoid looking at the eyes or the mouth of the faces, people were able to reduce fixations to the to-be-avoided feature, but they were less successful when asked to avoid looking at the eyes. These data demonstrate that looking at the eyes is not entirely under volitional control. In a second experiment, participants viewed inverted faces, which is known to disrupt face processing. Results again revealed a bias to look at the eyes during free viewing, but now when asked to avoid the eyes or the mouth, participants were equally successful at avoiding either feature. Thus, when normal face processing is impaired by inversion, attention to the eyes is under greater volitional control. Together, these data indicate that the preferential bias to attend to the eyes of upright faces reflects the combination of automatic and volitional processes. Our research also introduces the “Don't Look” paradigm as a simple and powerful paradigm for teasing apart the automatic and volitional processes that are contributing to a particular cognitive phenomenon.
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