August 2016
Volume 16, Issue 12
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2016
The eyes don't have it after all? Attention is not biased towards faces or eyes
Author Affiliations
  • Effie Pereira
    Department of Psychology, McGill University
  • Elina Birmingham
    Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University
  • Jelena Ristic
    Department of Psychology, McGill University
Journal of Vision September 2016, Vol.16, 1275. doi:
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      Effie Pereira, Elina Birmingham, Jelena Ristic; The eyes don't have it after all? Attention is not biased towards faces or eyes. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):1275.

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

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Social cues like faces and eyes are thought to exert powerful effects on attention. Numerous studies have demonstrated that faces and eyes preferentially attract eye movements in both simple and complex contexts – greater number of fixations are directed towards faces and eyes when participants are presented with faces in isolation, scenes portraying social content, and during free viewing of dynamic social interactions. However, it remains unclear if this oculomotor preference reflects preferential attentional selection, as no studies to date have distinguished between eye movements and attention with respect to face or eye selection. Here, we investigated if attention preferentially selects faces and eyes by using a modified dot-probe task. Participants were presented with displays depicting photographs of a face and a house, which were equated for size, distance, and low-level properties. Each stimulus could be positioned on the left or right of fixation and presented in either upright or inverted orientation. After 250ms, the cues offset and a target probe demanding a discrimination response was presented at the previous location of the face (eyes or mouth) or at the previous location of the house (top or bottom). Each combination of the cue and target was equiprobable. When participants were asked to perform the task covertly by maintaining central fixation, no attentional bias was observed for either the face or the eyes relative to the house. When eye movements were not restricted, similar findings emerged, indicating no attentional bias for either the face or the eyes across both manual and oculomotor measures. The only reliable result was an increased proportion of oculomotor breakaways towards the eyes during the cue period; however, the magnitude of this effect did not predict the magnitude of attentional selection. Together, these findings challenge the prevalent notion that faces and eyes preferentially and spontaneously capture human attention.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016


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