Working memory load disrupts gaze-cued orienting of attention



Bobak AK & Langton S (2015) Working memory load disrupts gaze-cued orienting of attention. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, Art. No.: 1258.

A large body of work has shown that a perceived gaze shift produces a shift in a viewer’s spatial attention in the direction of the seen gaze. A controversial issue surrounds the extent to which this gaze-cued orienting effect is stimulus-driven, or is under a degree of top-down control. In two experiments we show that the gaze-cued orienting effect is disrupted by a concurrent task that has been shown to place high demands on executive resources: random number generation. In Experiment 1 participants were faster to locate targets that appeared in gaze-cued locations relative to targets that appeared in locations opposite to those indicated by the gaze shifts, while simultaneously and continuously reciting aloud the digits 1-9 in order; however, this gaze-cueing effect was eliminated when participants continuously recited the same digits in a random order. Random number generation was also found to interfere with gaze-cued orienting in Experiment 2 where participants performed a speeded letter identification response. Together, these data suggest that gaze-cued orienting is actually under top-down control. We argue that top-down signals sustain a goal to shift attention in response to gazes, such that orienting ordinarily occurs when they are perceived; however, the goal cannot always be maintained when concurrent, multiple, competing goals are simultaneously active in working memory.

Gaze-cued attention; working memory; top-down control; random number generation; executive load

Frontiers in Psychology: Volume 6

FundersEconomic and Social Research Council
Publication date24/08/2015
Publication date online05/08/2015
Date accepted by journal05/08/2015
PublisherFrontiers Media S.A.

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Dr Stephen Langton

Dr Stephen Langton

Senior Lecturer, Psychology

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