Orienting towards social features in naturalistic scenes is reflexive
by Lara Rösler, Albert End, Matthias GamerSaliency-based models of visual attention postulate that, when a scene is freely viewed, attention is predominantly allocated to those elements that stand out in terms of their physical properties. However, eye-tracking studies have shown that saliency models fail to predict gaze behavior accurately when social information is included in an image. Notably, gaze pattern analyses revealed that depictions of human beings are heavily prioritized independent of their low-level physical saliency. What remains unknown, however, is whether the prioritization of such social features is a reflexive or a voluntary process. To investigate the early stages of social attention in more detail, participants viewed photographs of naturalistic scenes with and without social features (i.e., human heads or bodies) for 200 ms while their eye movements were being recorded. We observed significantly more first eye movements to regions containing social features than would be expected from a chance level distribution of saccades. Additionally, a generalized linear mixed model analysis revealed that the social content of a region better predicted first saccade direction than its saliency suggesting that social features partially override the impact of low-level physical saliency on gaze patterns. Given the brief image presentation time that precluded visual exploration, our results provide compelling evidence for a reflexive component in social attention. Moreover, the present study emphasizes the importance of considering social influences for a more coherent understanding of human attentional selection.
Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article
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