Mental-state attribution drives rapid, reflexive gaze following

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2010 Apr;72(3):695-705. doi: 10.3758/APP.72.3.695.


When presented with a face stimulus whose gaze is diverted, observers' attention shifts to locations fixated by the face. Such "gaze following" has been characterized by some previous studies as a consequence of sophisticated theory of mind processes, but by others (particularly those employing the "gaze-cuing" paradigm) as an involuntary response that is triggered directly and reflexively by the physical features of a face. To address this apparent contradiction, we modified the gaze-cuing paradigm using a deception procedure to convince observers that prerecorded videos of an experimenter making head turns and wearing mirrored goggles were a "live" video link to an adjacent room. In two experiments, reflexive gaze following was found when observers believed that the model was wearing transparent goggles and could see, but it was significantly reduced when they believed that the experimenter wore opaque goggles and could not see. These results indicate that the attribution of the mental state "seeing" to a face plays a role in controlling even reflexive gaze following.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Fixation, Ocular*
  • Humans
  • Motion Perception*
  • Reaction Time
  • Video Games
  • Visual Perception