Cortical processing of head- and eye-gaze cues guiding joint social attention

Neuroimage. 2011 Jan 15;54(2):1643-53. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.08.074. Epub 2010 Sep 9.


Previous fMRI experiments showed an involvement of the STS in the processing of eye-gaze direction in joint attention. Since head-gaze direction can also be used for the assessment of another person's attentional focus, we compared the mechanisms underlying the processing of head- and eye-gaze direction using a combined psychophysical and fMRI approach. Subjects actively followed the head- or eye-gaze direction of a person in a photograph towards one of seven possible targets by moving their eyes. We showed that the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS) as well as the right fusiform gyrus (FSG) were involved in both processing of head- as well as eye-gaze direction. Another finding was a bilateral deactivation of a distinct area in the middle STS (mSTS) as well as the left anterior STS (aSTS), that was stronger when subjects followed eye-gaze direction than when they followed head-gaze direction. We assume that this deactivation is based on an active suppression of information arising from the distracting other directional cue, i.e. head-gaze direction in the eye-gaze direction task and eye-gaze direction in the head-gaze direction task. These results further support the hypothesis that the human equivalent of the gaze sensitive area in monkeys lies in more anterior parts of the STS than previously thought.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Eye
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Head
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult