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Kompatsiari, Kyveli; Ciardo, Francesca; Tikhanoff, Vadim; Metta, Giorgio and Wykowska, Agnieszka (2018): On the role of eye contact in gaze cueing. In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 8, 17842 [PDF, 1MB]


Most experimental protocols examining joint attention with the gaze cueing paradigm are "observational" and "offline", thereby not involving social interaction. We examined whether within a naturalistic online interaction, real-time eye contact influences the gaze cueing effect (GCE). We embedded gaze cueing in an interactive protocol with the iCub humanoid robot. This has the advantage of ecological validity combined with excellent experimental control. Critically, before averting the gaze, iCub either established eye contact or not, a manipulation enabled by an algorithm detecting position of the human eyes. For non-predictive gaze cueing procedure (Experiment 1), only the eye contact condition elicited GCE, while for counter-predictive procedure (Experiment 2), only the condition with no eye contact induced GCE. These results reveal an interactive effect of strategic (gaze validity) and social (eye contact) top-down components on the reflexive orienting of attention induced by gaze cues. More generally, we propose that naturalistic protocols with an embodied presence of an agent can cast a new light on mechanisms of social cognition.

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