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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Apr 5;108(14):5548-53. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1017022108. Epub 2011 Mar 21.

Potential social interactions are important to social attention.

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Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4.


Social attention, or how spatial attention is allocated to biologically relevant stimuli, has typically been studied using simplistic paradigms that do not provide any opportunity for social interaction. To study social attention in a complex setting that affords social interaction, we measured participants' looking behavior as they were sitting in a waiting room, either in the presence of a confederate posing as another research participant, or in the presence of a videotape of the same confederate. Thus, the potential for social interaction existed only when the confederate was physically present. Although participants frequently looked at the videotaped confederate, they seldom turned toward or looked at the live confederate. Ratings of participants' social skills correlated with head turns to the live, but not videotaped, confederate. Our results demonstrate the importance of studying social attention within a social context, and suggest that the mere opportunity for social interaction can alter social attention.

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