Signalling cues in social interaction: an exploration using real world stimuli

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Psychology


Eye gaze during a social interaction is not only a mechanism for taking in information, but also a signal which can direct attention and influence others. This "dual function" of human eye movements has only recently been studied (Gobel, Kim & Richardson, 2015) and is often overlooked in controlled experiments on attention that use pictures of people rather than real people (Foulsham, 2014). For this reason, recent work has stressed the need for more realistic experiments, particularly those involving interaction between individuals (Ho, Foulsham and Kingstone, 2015). The proposed series of experiments will test the conditions under which people signal to each other using eye and head movements. State -of-the-art eye-tracking, will be used to complete a well-designed, progressive series of experiments with results analysed using advanced time-based analysis. The vital piece of equipment that I will use will be mobile eye tracking devices. This equipment allows individuals to be mobile throughout the interactions, enabling a more realistic approach compared to previous stationary social interaction experiments. The proposed series of analysis which include situations ranging from controlled laboratory experiments to real interactions will ensure results which inform theories of naturalistic attention. This will lead to theoretical advances in our knowledge about how people interact, which will also have a wide range of applications in different social and digital settings.

Research Background and Questions The relationship between gaze processing and social behaviour can be separated into three key components (Foulsham & Lock, 2015). First, we are automatically drawn to detect and monitor the eyes of others. Second, once attention has been drawn to the eyes, observers can readily extrapolate what is being attended to, resulting in gaze following and joint attention. Although these processes have been examined in simple stimuli, research is limited demonstrating how they function during real conversation, where attention to the eyes and gaze following must interact with speech processing and social signalling. My initial series of experiments will therefore explore how gaze cues and the content of conversation affects the way people attend to others in a group conversation. The final component involves Theory of Mind (ToM) where observers can infer beliefs and intentions from eye gaze, intuiting why the person is focusing their attention in a specific direction (Foulsham & Lock, 2015). Gaze provides the observer with an indication of a person's mental state, signalling focus of attention and implying a person's goals (Risko et al, 2012). Foulsham and Lock's eyes/lies paradigm explored this by asking participants to observe a cursor showing others' eye movements during a preference task and infer what had been chosen. When the same participants were asked to hide their own preferences, looking behaviour was modified in order to mislead the person watching. A potential criticism of this experiment is that the cursor was very different from the real cues provided by head and eye movements in a natural social situation. My second series of experiments therefore explores the interpretation of head and eye movements of others, and how these behaviours are influenced by being observed. The final series of experiments will use this previous research based on ToM to assess manipulation of signalling cues in naturalistic social interactions. During conversation, distinctive patterns are shown across individuals, with gaze used as a function of signalling whose turn it is to speak (Foulsham et al, 2010; Ho, Foulsham & Kingstone, 2015). The final sequence of research will explore the effects of manipulating and inhibiting the use of these social cues in a dynamic social environment.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P00072X/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1964646 Studentship ES/P00072X/1 01/10/2017 28/02/2021 JESSICA DAWSON