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Wiese, Eva; Wykowska, Agnieszka; Zwickel, Jan; Müller, Hermann J. (2012): I see what you mean. How attentional selection is shaped by ascribing intentions to others.
In: PloS one 7(9), e45391




The ability to understand and predict others' behavior is essential for successful interactions. When making predictions about what other humans will do, we treat them as intentional systems and adopt the intentional stance, i.e., refer to their mental states such as desires and intentions. In the present experiments, we investigated whether the mere belief that the observed agent is an intentional system influences basic social attention mechanisms. We presented pictures of a human and a robot face in a gaze cuing paradigm and manipulated the likelihood of adopting the intentional stance by instruction: in some conditions, participants were told that they were observing a human or a robot, in others, that they were observing a human-like mannequin or a robot whose eyes were controlled by a human. In conditions in which participants were made to believe they were observing human behavior (intentional stance likely) gaze cuing effects were significantly larger as compared to conditions when adopting the intentional stance was less likely. This effect was independent of whether a human or a robot face was presented. Therefore, we conclude that adopting the intentional stance when observing others' behavior fundamentally influences basic mechanisms of social attention. The present results provide striking evidence that high-level cognitive processes, such as beliefs, modulate bottom-up mechanisms of attentional selection in a top-down manner.