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Proc Biol Sci. 2010 Feb 22;277(1681):617-24. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1575. Epub 2009 Oct 28.

Facial cues of dominance modulate the short-term gaze-cuing effect in human observers.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK.


Responding appropriately to gaze cues is essential for fluent social interaction, playing a crucial role in social learning, collaboration, threat assessment and understanding others' intentions. Previous research has shown that responses to gaze cues can be studied by investigating the gaze-cuing effect (i.e. the tendency for observers to respond more quickly to targets in locations that were cued by others' gaze than to uncued targets). A recent study demonstrating that macaques demonstrate larger gaze-cuing effects when viewing dominant conspecifics than when viewing subordinate conspecifics suggests that cues of dominance modulate the gaze-cuing effect in at least one primate species. Here, we show a similar effect of facial cues associated with dominance on gaze cuing in human observers: at short viewing times, observers demonstrated a greater cuing effect for gaze cues from masculinized (i.e. dominant) faces than from feminized (i.e. subordinate) faces. Moreover, this effect of facial masculinity on gaze cuing decreased as viewing time was increased, suggesting that the effect is driven by involuntary responses. Our findings suggest that the mechanisms that underpin reflexive gaze cuing evolved to be sensitive to facial cues of others' dominance, potentially because such differential gaze cuing promoted desirable outcomes from encounters with dominant individuals.

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