Distracting gaze has been shown to elicit automatic gaze following. However, it is still debated whether the effects of perceived gaze are a simple automatic spatial orienting response or are instead sensitive to the context (i.e. goals and task demands). In three experiments, we investigated the conditions under which gaze following occurs. Participants were instructed to saccade towards one of two lateral targets. A face distracter, always present in the background, could gaze towards: (a) a task-relevant target - ("matching" goal-directed gaze shift) - congruent or incongruent with the instructed direction, (b) a task-irrelevant target, orthogonal to the one instructed ("non-matching" goal-directed gaze shift), or (c) an empty spatial location (no-goal-directed gaze shift). Eye movement recordings showed faster saccadic latencies in correct trials in congruent conditions especially when the distracting gaze shift occurred before the instruction to make a saccade. Interestingly, while participants made a higher proportion of gaze-following errors (i.e. errors in the direction of the distracting gaze) in the incongruent conditions when the distracter's gaze shift preceded the instruction onset indicating an automatic gaze following, they never followed the distracting gaze when it was directed towards an empty location or a stimulus that was never the target. Taken together, these findings suggest that gaze following is likely to be a product of both automatic and goal-driven orienting mechanisms.
- Eye movements
- Gaze following
- Goal-driven and stimulus-driven attention
- Joint attention
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