Gaze perception and covert attention
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Description: Eye gaze plays dual perceptual and social roles in everyday life. Gaze allows us to select information for further processing, whilst also indicating to others where we are attending. There are situations, however, where revealing the locus of our attention to others is not adaptive, such as when playing competitive sport or confronting an aggressor. It is in these circumstances that covert shifts in attention are assumed to play an essential role. Despite this assumption, few studies have explored the relationship between covert shifts in attention and eye movements within social contexts. In the present study, we explore this relationship using the saccadic dual-task in combination with the gaze-cueing paradigm. Across two experiments, participants either prepared an eye movement or fixated centrally. At the same time, spatial attention was cued with a social (gaze) or non-social (arrow) cue. We used an evidence accumulation model to quantify the relative contributions of both spatial attention and eye movement preparation to performance on a Landolt gap detection task. Importantly, this computational approach allowed us to extract a measure of performance that could unambiguously compare covert and overt orienting in social and non-social cueing tasks for the first time. Our results revealed that covert and overt orienting make separable contributions to perception during gaze-cueing, but that the mechanisms that underlie these attention shifts are similar to those that mediate non-social cueing. Therefore, consistent with a domain-general interpretation to orienting, our results suggest that covert and overt shifts in attention are mediated by independent underlying mechanisms that are invariant to social context.