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Nicole X. Han, Puneeth N. Chakravarthula, Miguel P. Eckstein; Peripheral facial features guiding eye movements and reducing fixational variability. Journal of Vision 2021;21(8):7. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.21.8.7.
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Face processing is a fast and efficient process due to its evolutionary and social importance. A majority of people direct their first eye movement to a featureless point just below the eyes that maximizes accuracy in recognizing a person's identity and gender. Yet, the exact properties or features of the face that guide the first eye movements and reduce fixational variability are unknown. Here, we manipulated the presence of the facial features and the spatial configuration of features to investigate their effect on the location and variability of first and second fixations to peripherally presented faces. Our results showed that observers can utilize the face outline, individual facial features, and feature spatial configuration to guide the first eye movements to their preferred point of fixation. The eyes have a preferential role in guiding the first eye movements and reducing fixation variability. Eliminating the eyes or altering their position had the greatest influence on the location and variability of fixations and resulted in the largest detriment to face identification performance. The other internal features (nose and mouth) also contribute to reducing fixation variability. A subsequent experiment measuring detection of single features showed that the eyes have the highest detectability (relative to other features) in the visual periphery providing a strong sensory signal to guide the oculomotor system. Together, the results suggest a flexible multiple-cue approach that might be a robust solution to cope with how the varying eccentricities in the real world influence the ability to resolve individual feature properties and the preferential role of the eyes.
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