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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2011 Sep;6(4):486-94. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq068. Epub 2010 Jul 22.

Does it make a difference if I have an eye contact with you or with your picture? An ERP study.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, FIN-33014, University of Tampere, Finland.


Several recent studies have begun to examine the neurocognitive mechanisms involved in perceiving and responding to eye contact, a salient social signal of interest and readiness for interaction. Laboratory experiments measuring observers' responses to pictorial instead of live eye gaze cues may, however, only vaguely approximate the real-life affective significance of gaze direction cues. To take this into account, we measured event-related brain potentials and subjective affective responses in healthy adults while viewing live faces with a neutral expression through an electronic shutter and faces as pictures on a computer screen. Direct gaze elicited greater face-sensitive N170 amplitudes and early posterior negativity potentials than averted gaze or closed eyes, but only in the live condition. The results show that early-stage processing of facial information is enhanced by another person's direct gaze when the person is faced live. We propose that seeing a live face with a direct gaze is processed more intensely than a face with averted gaze or closed eyes, as the direct gaze is capable of intensifying the feeling of being the target of the other's interest and intentions. These results may have implications for the use of pictorial stimuli in the social cognition studies.

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