Jones BC, DeBruine LM, Main JC, Little AC, Welling LLM, Feinberg DR & Tiddeman BP (2010). Facial cues of dominance modulate the short-term gaze-cuing effect in human observers. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 277: 617-624. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1575

Responding appropriately to gaze cues is essential for fluent social interaction, playing a crucial role in social learning, collaboration, threat assessment and understanding others’ intentions. Previous research has shown that responses to gaze cues can be studied by investigating the gaze-cuing effect (i.e., the tendency for observers to respond more quickly to targets in locations that were cued by others’ gaze than to uncued targets). A recent study demonstrating that macaques demonstrate larger gaze-cuing effects when viewing dominant conspecifics than when viewing subordinate conspecifics suggests that cues of dominance modulate the gaze-cuing effect in at least one primate species. Here we show a similar effect of facial cues associated with dominance on gaze-cuing in human observers: at short viewing times, observers demonstrated a greater cuing effect for gaze cues from masculinised (i.e., dominant) faces than from feminised (i.e., subordinate) faces. Moreover, this effect of facial masculinity on gaze-cuing decreased as viewing time was increased, suggesting that the effect is driven by involuntary responses. Our findings suggest that the mechanisms that underpin reflexive gaze-cuing evolved to be sensitive to facial cues of others’ dominance, potentially because such differential gaze-cuing promoted desirable outcomes from encounters with dominant individuals.

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