Perceived Gaze Direction Differentially Affects Discrimination of Facial Emotion, Attention, and Gender – An ERP Study
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The perception of eye-gaze is thought to be a key component of our everyday social interactions. While the neural correlates of direct and averted gaze processing have been investigated, there is little consensus about how these gaze directions may be processed differently as a function of the task being performed. In a within-subject design, we examined how perception of direct and averted gaze affected performance on tasks requiring participants to use directly available facial cues to infer the individuals’ emotional state (emotion discrimination), direction of attention (attention discrimination) and gender (gender discrimination). Neural activity was recorded throughout the three tasks using EEG, and ERPs time-locked to face onset were analyzed. Participants were most accurate at discriminating emotions with direct gaze faces, but most accurate at discriminating attention with averted gaze faces, while gender discrimination was not affected by gaze direction. At the neural level, direct and averted gaze elicited different patterns of activation depending on the task over frontal sites, from approximately 220–290 ms. More positive amplitudes were seen for direct than averted gaze in the emotion discrimination task. In contrast, more positive amplitudes were seen for averted gaze than for direct gaze in the gender discrimination task. These findings are among the first direct evidence that perceived gaze direction modulates neural activity differently depending on task demands, and that at the behavioral level, specific gaze directions functionally overlap with emotion and attention discrimination, precursors to more elaborated theory of mind processes.
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Sarah D. McCrackin, Roxane J. Itier (2019). Perceived Gaze Direction Differentially Affects Discrimination of Facial Emotion, Attention, and Gender – An ERP Study. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/15310
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