Configural processing in the perception of eye-gaze direction



Jenkins J & Langton S (2003) Configural processing in the perception of eye-gaze direction. Perception, 32 (10), pp. 1181-1188.

Traditional accounts of gaze perception emphasise the geometric or configural cues present in the eye; the position of the iris in relation to the corner of the eye, for example. This kind of geometric account has been supported, in part, by findings that gaze judgments are impaired in faces rotated through 180°, a manipulation known to disrupt the processing of relations between facial elements. However, studies involving this manipulation have confounded inversion of the face context with inversion of the eye region. The effects of inversion might therefore have been caused by a disruption of the computation of gaze direction from the eye region itself and/or a disruption of the influence that face context might exert on gaze processing. In the experiment reported here we independently manipulated eye orientation and the orientation of the face context, and measured participants' sensitivity to gaze direction. Performance was severely affected by inversion of the eyes, regardless of the orientation of the face, whereas face inversion had no significant effect on gaze sensitivity. Previous reports of a face-inversion effect on gaze perception can therefore be attributed to inversion of the eye region itself which, we suggest, disrupts some form of configural or relational processing that is normally involved in the computation of eye-gaze direction.

Perception: Volume 32, Issue 10

Publication date31/12/2003

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Dr Stephen Langton

Dr Stephen Langton

Senior Lecturer, Psychology