In this study I examined the role of the hands in scene perception. In Experiment 1, eye movements during free observation of natural scenes were analyzed. Fixations to faces and hands were compared under several conditions, including scenes with and without faces, with and without hands, and without a person. The hands were either resting (e.g., lying on the knees) or interacting with objects (e.g., holding a bottle). Faces held an absolute attentional advantage, regardless of hand presence. Importantly, fixations to interacting hands were faster and more frequent than those to resting hands, suggesting attentional priority to interacting hands. The interacting-hand advantage could not be attributed to perceptual saliency or to the hand-owner (i.e., the depicted person) gaze being directed at the interacting hand. Experiment 2 confirmed the interacting-hand advantage in a visual search paradigm with more controlled stimuli. The present results indicate that the key to understanding the role of attention in person perception is the competitive interaction among objects such as faces, hands, and objects interacting with the person.
Keywords: Eye movements; Face perception; Hand perception; Human body; Natural scenes; Visual search.