August 2012
Volume 12, Issue 9
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2012
"Here’s looking at you, kid": Attentional capture by the abrupt onset of direct eye gaze
Author Affiliations
  • Timothy Welsh
    Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
  • Anne Böckler
    Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  • Robrecht van der Wel
    Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, Camden, USA
Journal of Vision August 2012, Vol.12, 28. doi:
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      Timothy Welsh, Anne Böckler, Robrecht van der Wel; "Here’s looking at you, kid": Attentional capture by the abrupt onset of direct eye gaze. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):28.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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People’s sensitivity to eye contact is striking. Studies have revealed that direct eye gaze (faces looking at the participant) is a powerful cue which affects subsequent attentional and cognitive processing. For example, target detection is more efficient close to the location of direct gaze relative to other locations in the environment. Although gaze behaviour in real life interactions is dynamic, gaze stimuli in previous studies have been static - faces either looked toward or away from participants throughout trials. The present study investigated whether gaze that is suddenly directed at participants has an additional attention capture advantage in comparison to static direct gaze or to gaze that suddenly moves in other directions. The task was to identify a target letter presented on one of four faces. Distractor letters were presented on the other three faces. In the main experiment, the initial display consisted of two faces with direct gaze and two with averted gaze. Simultaneous to target presentation, one of the faces with averted gaze switched to a direct gaze (sudden onset direct gaze) and one of the direct gaze faces turned into averted gaze (sudden onset averted gaze). Results revealed that detection times for targets presented on the forehead of the face with sudden onset direct gaze were significantly shorter compared to faces with sudden onset averted gaze, static direct gaze, or static averted gaze. Subsequent experiments investigated the salience of sudden onset gaze relative to static direct gaze and other types of dynamic gaze switching. Overall, sudden direct gaze seems to have an attentional capture advantage over static direct gaze and sudden averted gaze with a similar amount of motion. It is argued that this advantage for sudden direct gaze occurs because it is an extremely salient cue for the initiation of social interaction.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012


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