Effects of direct and averted gaze on the subsequent saccadic response
The saccadic latency to visual targets is susceptible to the properties of the currently fixated objects. For example, the disappearance of a fixation stimulus prior to presentation of a peripheral target shortens saccadic latencies (the gap effect). In the present study, we investigated the influences of a social signal from a facial fixation stimulus (i.e., gaze direction) on subsequent saccadic responses in the gap paradigm. In Experiment 1, a cartoon face with a direct or averted gaze was used as a fixation stimulus. The pupils of the face were unchanged (overlap), disappeared (gap), or were translated vertically to make or break eye contact (gaze shift). Participants were required to make a saccade toward a target to the left or the right of the fixation stimulus as quickly as possible. The results showed that the gaze direction influenced saccadic latencies only in the gaze shift condition, but not in the gap or overlap condition; the direct-to-averted gaze shift (i.e., breaking eye contact) yielded shorter saccadic latencies than did the averted-to-direct gaze shift (i.e., making eye contact). Further experiments revealed that this effect was eye contact specific (Exp. 2) and that the appearance of an eye gaze immediately before the saccade initiation also influenced the saccadic latency, depending on the gaze direction (Exp. 3). These results suggest that the latency of target-elicited saccades can be modulated not only by physical changes of the fixation stimulus, as has been seen in the conventional gap effect, but also by a social signal from the attended fixation stimulus.
KeywordsEye contact Gap effect Gaze perception Saccade
This work was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Fellows (to H.U.), by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Nos. 24300279 and 23240034, to K.W., and 25700013, to K.T.) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and by CREST (to K.W.), JST, Japan.