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Brain Res. 2006 Mar 29;1080(1):101-19. Epub 2006 Feb 9.

Cognitive Ethology and exploring attention in real-world scenes.

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Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3G1, Canada.


We sought to understand what types of information people use when they infer the attentional states of others. In our study, two groups of participants viewed pictures of social interactions. One group was asked to report where the people in the pictures were directing their attention and how they (the group) knew it. The other group was simply asked to describe the pictures. We recorded participants' eye movements as they completed the different tasks and documented their subjective inferences and descriptions. The findings suggest that important cues for inferring attention of others include direction of eye gaze, head position, body orientation, and situational context. The study illustrates how attention research can benefit from (a) using more complex real-world tasks and stimuli, (b) measuring participants' subjective reports about their experiences and beliefs, and (c) observing and describing situational behavior rather than seeking to uncover some putative basic mechanism(s) of attention. Finally, we discuss how our research points to a new approach for studying human attention. This new approach, which we call Cognitive Ethology, focuses on understanding how attention operates in everyday situations and what people know and believe about attention.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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