Purpose: Judged direction of gaze from straight and turned heads is known to be biased from its true direction. We have tested the additional influence of epicanthal folds on the perceived direction of gaze.
Methods: Western observers (U.S. residents of Western appearance) and Eastern observers (native Japanese) judged the direction of gaze from cathode ray tube-imaged heads with and without epicanthal folds (Japanese vs. Western models) when the heads, both straight and turned, gazed in different lateral directions.
Results: When the gazers' heads were straight and gave eye contact, both Western and Eastern observers judged the gaze to be giving eye contact. However, with straight heads and gaze to the side, epicanthal folds produced significant differences in the judged direction of gaze. Observers judged the right and left eyes to be gazing in nearly the same direction when the gazer had the eye appearance that the observers were used to viewing within their own country, but in very different directions when the gazer had eyes typical of the other country. When the gazers' heads were turned, the Western and Eastern observers judged the direction of gaze of the Western gazer's right and left eyes similarly, but both judged large differences in direction of gaze between right and left eyes for the Eastern gazer.
Conclusion: Direction of gaze from eyes that have epicanthal folds is judged very differently than gaze from eyes that do not have epicanthal folds. This difference is sensitive to the cultural experience of the observers.