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Cognition. 2010 Dec;117(3):319-31. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.09.003. Epub 2010 Oct 20.

Gaze allocation in a dynamic situation: effects of social status and speaking.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Canada.


Human visual attention operates in a context that is complex, social and dynamic. To explore this, we recorded people taking part in a group decision-making task and then showed video clips of these situations to new participants while tracking their eye movements. Observers spent the majority of time looking at the people in the videos, and in particular at their eyes and faces. The social status of the people in the clips had been rated by their peers in the group task, and this status hierarchy strongly predicted where eye-tracker participants looked: high-status individuals were gazed at much more often, and for longer, than low-status individuals, even over short, 20-s videos. Fixation was temporally coupled to the person who was talking at any one time, but this did not account for the effect of social status on attention. These results are consistent with a gaze system that is attuned to the presence of other individuals, to their social status within a group, and to the information most useful for social interaction.

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