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Attention to the face is characterised by a difficult to inhibit first fixation to the eyes

Thompson, Sarah J., Foulsham, Tom, Leekam, Susan R. ORCID: and Jones, Catherine R.G. ORCID: 2019. Attention to the face is characterised by a difficult to inhibit first fixation to the eyes. Acta Psychologica 193 , pp. 229-238. 10.1016/j.actpsy.2019.01.006

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The eyes are preferentially attended over other facial features and recent evidence suggests this bias is difficult to suppress. To further examine the automatic and volitional nature of this bias for eye information, we used a novel prompting face recognition paradigm in 41 adults and measured the location of their first fixations, overall dwell time and behavioural responses. First, patterns of eye gaze were measured during a free-viewing forced choice face recognition paradigm. Second, the task was repeated but with prompts to look to either the eyes or the mouth. Participants showed significantly more first fixations to the eyes than mouth, both when prompted to look at the eyes and when prompted to look at the mouth. The pattern of looking to the eyes when prompted was indistinguishable from the unprompted condition in which participants were free to look where they chose. Notably, the dwell time data demonstrated that the eye bias did not persist over the entire presentation period. Our results suggest a difficult-to-inhibit bias to initially orient to the eyes, which is superseded by volitional, top-down control of eye gaze. Further, the amount of looking to the eyes is at a maximum level spontaneously and cannot be enhanced by explicit instructions.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0001-6918
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 28 January 2019
Date of Acceptance: 7 January 2019
Last Modified: 05 May 2023 19:57

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