September 2015
Volume 15, Issue 12
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2015
Reciprocating the gaze of others: how we look and how long we like to be looked at.
Author Affiliations
  • Nicola Binetti
    Department of Experimental Psychology, UCL
  • Charlotte Harrison
    Department of Experimental Psychology, UCL
  • Antoine Coutrot
  • Isabelle Mareschal
    School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London
  • Alan Johnston
    Department of Experimental Psychology, UCL
Journal of Vision September 2015, Vol.15, 172. doi:
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      Nicola Binetti, Charlotte Harrison, Antoine Coutrot, Isabelle Mareschal, Alan Johnston; Reciprocating the gaze of others: how we look and how long we like to be looked at.. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):172.

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

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Mutual eye contact is a key aspect that accompanies any social interaction. Through mutual gaze we establish a communicative link with another person and inform him/her of our goals and motivations. While much attention has been directed to studying the mechanisms of perception / classification of gaze direction, we know very little on the temporal aspects of mutual gaze. We have all likely experienced instances of uncomfortable eye contact, while for example speaking with a stranger or standing in front of someone in an elevator. Here we studied in a very large subject pool (>400 participants) what constitutes a preferred time of mutual eye contact and how these estimates of preferred mutual gaze relate to participant eye behaviour. Participants viewed movies of actors (4 female, 4 male) establishing eye contact with them for variable amounts of time. At the end of each movie participants classified the period of mutual gaze as being “uncomfortably short” or “uncomfortably long”, thus yielding an estimate of “preferred” time of mutual gaze. We also collected ratings on a set face traits of the actor viewed in the clips. We found that the preferred period of mutual eye contact varied as a function of subjective ratings of actor threat, trustworthiness & attractiveness. Threatening faces were associated with lower periods of preferred eye contact, while conversely trustworthy faces were associated with longer periods of preferred mutual gaze. Analysis of patterns of eye fixations showed that fixations tend to be more concentrated in the actor’s eye region in participants exhibiting longer preferred periods of mutual gaze, suggesting that these participants are more likely to reciprocate the eye behaviour of the actor. Finally we also observed that the concentration of fixations in the actor’s eye region was also associated with higher dominance ratings.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015


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