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Charles C.-F. Or, Matthew F. Peterson, Miguel P. Eckstein; Initial eye movements during face identification are optimal and similar across cultures. Journal of Vision 2015;15(13):12. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/15.13.12.
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Culture influences not only human high-level cognitive processes but also low-level perceptual operations. Some perceptual operations, such as initial eye movements to faces, are critical for extraction of information supporting evolutionarily important tasks such as face identification. The extent of cultural effects on these crucial perceptual processes is unknown. Here, we report that the first gaze location for face identification was similar across East Asian and Western Caucasian cultural groups: Both fixated a featureless point between the eyes and the nose, with smaller between-group than within-group differences and with a small horizontal difference across cultures (8% of the interocular distance). We also show that individuals of both cultural groups initially fixated at a slightly higher point on Asian faces than on Caucasian faces. The initial fixations were found to be both fundamental in acquiring the majority of information for face identification and optimal, as accuracy deteriorated when observers held their gaze away from their preferred fixations. An ideal observer that integrated facial information with the human visual system's varying spatial resolution across the visual field showed a similar information distribution across faces of both races and predicted initial human fixations. The model consistently replicated the small vertical difference between human fixations to Asian and Caucasian faces but did not predict the small horizontal leftward bias of Caucasian observers. Together, the results suggest that initial eye movements during face identification may be driven by brain mechanisms aimed at maximizing accuracy, and less influenced by culture. The findings increase our understanding of the interplay between the brain's aims to optimally accomplish basic perceptual functions and to respond to sociocultural influences.
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