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Eye Direction Detection and Perception as Premises of a Social Brain: A Narrative Review of Behavioral and Neural Data

Abstract

The eyes and the gaze are important stimuli for social interaction in humans. Impaired recognition of facial identity, facial emotions, and inference of the intentions of others may result from difficulties in extracting information relevant to the eye region, mainly the direction of gaze. Therefore, a review of these data is of interest. Behavioral data demonstrating the importance of the eye region and how humans respond to gaze direction are reviewed narratively, and several theoretical models on how visual information on gaze is processed are discussed to propose a unified hypothesis. Several issues that have not yet been investigated are identified. The authors tentatively suggest experiments that might help progress research in this area. The neural aspects are subsequently reviewed to best describe the low-level and higher-level visual information processing stages in the targeted subcortical and cortical areas. A specific neural network is proposed on the basis of the literature. Various gray areas, such as the temporality of the processing of visual information, the question of salience priority, and the coordination between the two hemispheres, remain unclear and require further investigations. Finally, disordered gaze direction detection mechanisms and their consequences on social cognition and behavior are discussed as key deficiencies in several conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, 22q11.2 deletion, schizophrenia, and social anxiety disorder. This narrative review provides significant additional data showing that the detection and perception of someone’s gaze is an essential part of the development of our social brain.

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Correspondence to Marie-Noëlle Babinet.

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Babinet, MN., Cublier, M., Demily, C. et al. Eye Direction Detection and Perception as Premises of a Social Brain: A Narrative Review of Behavioral and Neural Data. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 22, 1–20 (2022). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-021-00959-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-021-00959-w

Keywords

  • Eye direction detection and perception
  • Gaze
  • Social brain
  • Behavior and neural data