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Sarah McCrackin, Roxane Itier; Perceived gaze direction affects basic cognitive and affective theory of mind processes – an ERP study. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):605. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/18.10.605.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
We look at someone's eyes for insight into their mental state. However, little is known about how seeing someone look at or away from us impacts our reasoning about their thoughts (cognitive theory of mind; cTOM) and emotions (affective theory of mind; aTOM). We examined how gaze affects the ability to make cTOM and aTOM judgements and the time course of these cognitive processes. As we usually infer what people are thinking based on where they are looking in their environment, we hypothesized that averted gaze may facilitate cTOM more than direct gaze. In contrast, direct gaze is implicated in emotional responding, suggesting a facilitatory role in aTOM. Thirty participants viewed the same direct and averted gaze faces expressing joy or anger (half female) and completed: 1) an aTOM task (emotion discrimination), 2) a cTOM task (direction of attention discrimination), and 3) a control task (gender discrimination). ERPs were recorded to face onset, and mean amplitude was analysed across 200ms time-windows from 200-800ms over occipito-temporal and parietal sites. Accuracy and reaction times were best/shortest for the control task, intermediate for the aTOM task, and worst/longest for the cTOM task. At occipito-temporal sites, task affected amplitudes around 400-800ms, with the most negative amplitude seen for the cTOM task, followed by the aTOM task, and then the control task, likely reflecting cognitive load. As predicted, gaze direction modulated behaviour in the two TOM tasks, but not the control task. Participants responded faster and more accurately when faces had direct gaze in the aTOM task, and when faces had averted gaze in the cTOM task. An increased positivity was elicited by direct compared to averted gaze in the cTOM task from 600-800ms over parietal sites. Results support a facilitatory role of direct gaze in aTOM and for averted gaze in cTOM tasks.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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