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The role of top-down mechanisms in gaze perception – Nicolas Burra

@ 10:30 - 12:00

Humans, as a social species, have an increased ability to detect and perceive visual elements involved in social exchanges, such as faces and eyes. The gaze, in particular, conveys information crucial for social interactions and social cognition. Researchers have hypothesized that in order to engage in dynamic face-to-face communication in real time, our brains must quickly and automatically process the direction of another person’s gaze. There is evidence that direct gaze improves face encoding and attention capture and that direct gaze is perceived and processed more quickly than averted gaze. These results are summarized as the “direct gaze effect”. However, in the recent literature, there is evidence to suggest that the mode of visual information processing modulates the direct gaze effect. In this presentation, I argue that top-down processing, and specifically the relevance of eye features to the task, promotes the early preferential processing of direct versus indirect gaze. On the basis of several recent evidences, I propose that low task relevance of eye features will prevent differences in eye direction processing between gaze directions because its encoding will be superficial. Differential processing of direct and indirect gaze will only occur when the eyes are relevant to the task. To assess the implication of task relevance on the temporality of cognitive processing, we will measure event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to facial stimuli. In this project, instead of typical ERP markers such as P1, N170 or P300, we will measure lateralized ERPs (lERPS) such as lateralized N170 and N2pc, which are markers of early face encoding and attentional deployment respectively. I hypothesize that the relevance of the eye feature task is crucial in the direct gaze effect and propose to revisit previous studies, which had questioned the existence of the direct gaze effect. This claim will be illustrate with different past studies and recent preliminary data of my lab. Overall, I propose a systematic evaluation of the role of top-down processing in early direct gaze perception in order to understand the impact of context on gaze perception and, at a larger scope, on social cognition.


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