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Inês Mares, Marie Smith, Mark Johnson, Atsuhi Senju; Direct gaze N170 modulation is dependent of low spatial frequency information. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1226. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/15.12.1226.
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Direct gaze is a powerful social cue used to indicate the attention of another on oneself and is of such importance to typical everyday social interaction that it is preferentially attended from birth (Farroni et al., 2002). Previous research has indicated better face encoding and retrieval of faces displaying direct as opposed to averted gaze with electrophysiological studies indicating an enhanced neuronal response to direct gaze in the face selective N170 component (Conty et al., 2007). However the mechanisms underlying these modulations in brain response and behaviour remain unclear. A leading hypothesis proposes that a fast pathway receiving information from the retina directly to the superior colliculus, following through the pulvinar to the amygadala would be critical for the fast detection and enhanced processing of direct gaze (Senju et al., 2009). In the present study we analysed the putative importance of subcortical structures on the neural response to direct vs. averted eye gaze by manipulating spatial frequency content of the faces, as this pathway has been associated with low spatial frequency processing. Specifically, faces in direct and averted eye gaze were displayed in low, high and broad spatial frequency while we measured the electroencephalographic responses of participants. To maintain attention participants were instructed to detect a red square that appeared in 10% of the trials. Results confirmed an enhanced N170 for faces in direct gaze when compared with averted gaze in the broad spatial frequency band condition and indicated that this was driven by the low spatial frequency content (with no significant differences between direct and averted eye gaze faces when only high spatial frequency information was present). The present study indicates the importance of low spatial frequency information in gaze processing, supporting the existence of a subcortical pathway that contributes for the fast detection and processing of direct gaze.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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