December 2022
Volume 22, Issue 14
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   December 2022
The development of attention to social interactions in naturalistic scenes
Author Affiliations
  • Ioana Mihai
    Bangor University
  • Simona Skripkauskaite
    University of Oxford
  • Kami Koldewyn
    Bangor University
Journal of Vision December 2022, Vol.22, 3548. doi:
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      Ioana Mihai, Simona Skripkauskaite, Kami Koldewyn; The development of attention to social interactions in naturalistic scenes. Journal of Vision 2022;22(14):3548.

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

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Human attention is preferentially captured by social information in scenes. Recent research suggests that people also preferentially attend to interacting dyads compared to non-interactors. Thus, interactions might capture visual attention above other social information, a "preference" that could contribute, across development, to social learning. However, very little work has directly examined these processes in complex scenes, nor across development. We investigated the development of attention to social interactions in naturalistic scenarios across three free-viewing eye-tracking experiments with 54 children (age: 6-12) and 99 adults (18-35). Scenes depicted dyads who were either interacting or not (exp1), or dyads were presented together with one or two non-interactors (exp2). In exp3, scenes were ambiguous and participants indicated whether they perceived the scenes as interactive or not. Across experiments, we compared attentional engagement and capture by social areas of interest (humans) with non-social information (background), contrasted by whether scenes were interactive or not. Results revealed that children and adults are strikingly similar, showing a strong social attentional bias in the first two experiments, but a weaker bias in ambiguous social scenes. For both children and adults, interactions increase this bias (exp1), and capture and engage attention more strongly compared to another agent in the same scene (exp2). However, when interactive dyads compete with two other agents, the interactive bias is smaller for children than for adults. In the third experiment, while adults were more likely to view ambiguous scenarios as interactive compared to children, this difference was not reflected in the way attention was oriented to social information, suggesting no top-down modulation. Together these data suggest interactions take attentional priority, but this “interaction bias” increases across development. Crucially, our data also suggest this ‘bias’ to attend to social interactions is present as early as six, with important implications for social attention and social development.


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