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J Vis. 2012 Dec 3;12(13). pii: 3. doi: 10.1167/12.13.3.

Do the eyes really have it? Dynamic allocation of attention when viewing moving faces.

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Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, USA.


What controls gaze allocation during dynamic face perception? We monitored participants' eye movements while they watched videos featuring close-ups of pedestrians engaged in interviews. Contrary to previous findings using static displays, we observed no general preference to fixate eyes. Instead, gaze was dynamically directed to the eyes, nose, or mouth in response to the currently depicted event. Fixations to the eyes increased when a depicted face made eye contact with the camera, while fixations to the mouth increased when the face was speaking. When a face moved quickly, fixations concentrated on the nose, suggesting that it served as a spatial anchor. To better understand the influence of auditory speech during dynamic face perception, we presented participants with a second version of the same video, in which the audio speech track had been removed, leaving just the background music. Removing the speech signal modulated gaze allocation by decreasing fixations to faces generally and the mouth specifically. Since the task was to simply rate the likeability of the videos, the decrease of attention allocation to the mouth region implies a reduction of the functional benefits of mouth fixations given that speech comprehension was not required. Together, these results argue against a general prioritization of the eyes and support a more functional, information-seeking use of gaze allocation during dynamic face viewing.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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