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Appears in Collections:Psychology eTheses
Title: The effects of eye gaze and emotional facial expression on the allocation of visual attention
Author(s): Cooper, Robbie M., (Robbie Mathew)
Supervisor(s): Langton, Stephen R. H.
Keywords: Attention
Eye Gaze
Social Cogntion
Face Processing
Issue Date: Jul-2006
Publisher: University of Stirling
Citation: Chapter 4 - Cooper, R. M. & Langton, S.R.H. (2006). Attentional bias to angry faces using the dot-probe task? It depends when you look for it. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1321 - 1329.
Abstract: This thesis examines the way in which meaningful facial signals (i.e., eye gaze and emotional facial expressions) influence the allocation of visual attention. These signals convey information about the likely imminent behaviour of the sender and are, in turn, potentially relevant to the behaviour of the viewer. It is already well established that different signals influence the allocation of attention in different ways that are consistent with their meaning. For example, direct gaze (i.e., gaze directed at the viewer) is considered both to draw attention to its location and hold attention when it arrives, whereas observing averted gaze is known to create corresponding shifts in the observer’s attention. However, the circumstances under which these effects occur are not yet understood fully. The first two sets of experiments in this thesis tested directly whether direct gaze is particularly difficult to ignore when the task is to ignore it, and whether averted gaze will shift attention when it is not relevant to the task. Results suggest that direct gaze is no more difficult to ignore than closed eyes, and the shifts in attention associated with viewing averted gaze are not evident when the gaze cues are task-irrelevant. This challenges the existing understanding of these effects. The remaining set of experiments investigated the role of gaze direction in the allocation of attention to emotional facial expressions. Without exception, previous work looking at this issue has measured the allocation of attention to such expressions when gaze is directed at the viewer. Results suggest that while the type of emotional expression (i.e., angry or happy) does influence the allocation of attention, the associated gaze direction does not, even when the participants are divided in terms of anxiety level (a variable known to influence the allocation of attention to emotional expressions). These findings are discussed in terms of how the social meaning of the stimulus can influence preattentive processing. This work also serves to highlight the need for general theories of visual attention to incorporate such data. Not to do so fundamentally risks misrepresenting the nature of attention as it operates out-with the laboratory setting.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Natural Sciences

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