Gaze-cued shifts of attention and microsaccades are sustained for whole bodies but are transient for body parts


Gaze direction is an evolutionarily important mechanism in daily social interactions. It reflects a person’s internal cognitive state, spatial locus of interest, and predicts future actions. Studies have used static head images presented foveally and simple synthetic tasks to find that gaze orients attention and facilitates target detection at the cued location in a sustained manner. Little is known about how people’s natural gaze behavior, including eyes, head, and body movements, jointly orient covert attention, microsaccades, and facilitate performance in more ecological dynamic scenes. Participants completed a target person detection task with videos of real scenes. The videos showed people looking toward (valid cue) or away from a target (invalid cue) location. We digitally manipulated the individuals in the videos directing gaze to create three conditions: whole-intact (head and body movements), floating heads (only head movements), and headless bodies (only body movements). We assessed their impact on participants’ behavioral performance and microsaccades during the task. We show that, in isolation, an individual’s head or body orienting toward the target-person direction led to facilitation in detection that is transient in time (200 ms). In contrast, only the whole-intact condition led to sustained facilitation (500 ms). Furthermore, observers executed microsaccades more frequently towards the cued direction for valid trials, but this bias was sustained in time only with the joint presence of head and body parts. Together, the results differ from previous findings with foveally presented static heads. In more real-world scenarios and tasks, sustained attention requires the presence of the whole-intact body of the individuals dynamically directing their gaze.

ICB Affiliated Authors

Nicole X. Han and Miguel P. Eckstein
Peer-Reviewed Article
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review