As a part of social cognition, people automatically construct rich models of other people's vision. Here we show that when people judge the mechanical forces acting on an object, their judgments are biased by another person gazing at the object. The bias is consistent with an implicit perception that gaze adds a gentle force, pushing on the object. The bias was present even though the participants were not explicitly aware of it and claimed that they did not believe in an extramission view of vision (a common folk view of vision in which the eyes emit an invisible energy). A similar result was not obtained on control trials when participants saw a blindfolded face turned toward the object, or a face with open eyes turned away from the object. The findings suggest that people automatically and implicitly generate a model of other people's vision that uses the simplifying construct of beams coming out of the eyes. This implicit model of active gaze may be a hidden, yet fundamental, part of the rich process of social cognition, contributing to how we perceive visual agency. It may also help explain the extraordinary cultural persistence of the extramission myth of vision.
Keywords: gaze; social cognition; spatial perception; theory of mind; visual attention.
Copyright © 2019 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.