Seminar Series

Eye and thou: Eye movements and social cognition

Movements of the eye are determined by an interaction of low level properties of the stimulus and high level cognitive factors. Typically in eye movement research, the cognitive factors are that are investigated are expectations or schemas for particular types of scene. I will present three studies demonstrating that social factors also have a substantial contribution to eye movements. In the first, participants watched a video of people giving their views on a sensitive political issue. One speaker made a potentially offensive remark. If participants believed these remarks could be heard by others, they fixated individuals who were likely to be offended. In a second study, two participants in adjacent cubicles had a discussion over an intercom while they were eye tracked. We found that their gaze coordination was modulated by what each believed the other could see on the computer screen. In the final study, we simply showed sets of four stimuli to pairs of participants. We found that that individuals looked at photographs differently if they believed that the other person was looking at the same images, or a set of random symbols. Together these experiments demonstrate that social forces have a strong effect on perceptual mechanisms. Gaze patterns are determined by what we think others will feel, what we think our conversation partners can see, and simply whether or not we think we are looking alone or with other people.