September 2018
Volume 18, Issue 10
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2018
Looking into the future: An inward bias in aesthetic experience driven only by gaze cues
Author Affiliations
  • Yi-Chia Chen
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University
  • Clara Colombatto
    Department of Psychology, Yale University
  • Brian Scholl
    Department of Psychology, Yale University
Journal of Vision September 2018, Vol.18, 1333. doi:
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      Yi-Chia Chen, Clara Colombatto, Brian Scholl; Looking into the future: An inward bias in aesthetic experience driven only by gaze cues. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):1333.

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

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When you aim your camera at a scene you wish to capture, you face a problem that artists have faced for centuries: How can you best frame your composition? There is no easy answer to this question, since people's aesthetic preferences vary dramatically, and are influenced by personal history and countless cultural factors. There are, nevertheless, some regularities that are powerful enough to persist across people, contexts, and time. For example, in framed images such as photographs, we prefer peripheral figures that face inward (vs. outward). Why does this "inward bias" exist? Since agents tend to act in the direction in which they are facing, one intriguing possibility is that the inward bias reflects a preference to view scenes from a perspective that will allow us to witness those predicted future actions. This account has been difficult to test with previous displays, in which facing direction was often confounded with either global shape profiles or the relative locations of salient features (since, e.g., someone's face is generally more visually interesting than the back of their head). But here we demonstrate a robust inward bias in aesthetic judgment driven by a cue that is socially powerful but visually subtle: averted gaze. Subjects adjusted the positions of people in images to maximize the images' aesthetic appeal. People with direct gaze were not placed preferentially in particular regions, but people with averted gaze were reliably placed so that they appeared to be looking inward. A second experiment with color-inverted images ruled out confounds related to lower-level visual properties, suggesting that the effect is driven by perceived gaze per se. These results demonstrate that the inward bias may be an adaptive feature of our minds: it can arise from visually subtle features, when those features signal how future events may unfold.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018


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