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Perez-Osorio, Jairo; Müller, Hermann J.; Wiese, Eva; Wykowska, Agnieszka (2015): Gaze Following Is Modulated by Expectations Regarding Others' Action Goals.
In: PLOS ONE 10(11), e0143614


Humans attend to social cues in order to understand and predict others' behavior. Facial expressions and gaze direction provide valuable information to infer others' mental states and intentions. The present study examined the mechanism of gaze following in the context of participants' expectations about successive action steps of an observed actor. We embedded a gaze-cueing manipulation within an action scenario consisting of a sequence of naturalistic photographs. Gaze-induced orienting of attention (gaze following) was analyzed with respect to whether the gaze behavior of the observed actor was in line or not with the action-related expectations of participants (i.e.,whether the actor gazed at an object that was congruent or incongruent with an overarching action goal). In Experiment 1, participants followed the gaze of the observed agent, though the gaze-cueing effect was larger when the actor looked at an action-congruent object relative to an incongruent object. Experiment 2 examined whether the pattern of effects observed in Experiment 1 was due to covert, rather than overt, attentional orienting, by requiring participants to maintain eye fixation throughout the sequence of critical photographs (corroborated by monitoring eye movements). The essential pattern of results of Experiment 1 was replicated, with the gazecueing effect being completely eliminated when the observed agent gazed at an action-incongruent object. Thus, our findings show that covert gaze following can be modulated by expectations that humans hold regarding successive steps of the action performed by an observed agent.