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Timo Stein, Marius V. Peelen, Philipp Sterzer; Eye gaze adaptation under interocular suppression. Journal of Vision 2012;12(7):1. doi: 10.1167/12.7.1.
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The perception of eye gaze is central to social interaction in that it provides information about another person's goals, intentions, and focus of attention. Direction of gaze has been found to reflexively shift the observer's attention in the corresponding direction, and prolonged exposure to averted eye gaze adapts the visual system, biasing perception of subsequent gaze in the direction opposite to the adapting face. Here, we tested the role of conscious awareness in coding eye gaze directions. To this end, we measured aftereffects induced by adapting faces with different eye gaze directions that were presented during continuous flash suppression, a potent interocular suppression technique. In some trials the adapting face was rendered fully invisible, whereas in others it became partially visible. In Experiment 1, the adapting and test faces were presented in identical sizes and to the same eye. Even fully invisible faces were capable of inducing significant eye gaze aftereffects, although these were smaller than aftereffects from partially visible faces. When the adapting and test faces were shown to different eyes in Experiment 2, significant eye gaze aftereffects were still observed for the fully invisible faces, thus showing interocular transfer. Experiment 3 disrupted the spatial correspondence between adapting and test faces by introducing a size change. Under these conditions, aftereffects were restricted to partially visible adapting faces. These results were replicated in Experiment 4 using a blocked adaptation design. Together, these findings indicate that size-dependent low-level components of eye gaze can be represented without awareness, whereas object-centered higher-level representations of eye gaze directions depend on visual awareness.
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