Jones BC, DeBruine LM, Main JC, Little AC, Welling LLM & Feinberg DR (2009). Facial cues of dominance modulate reflexive gaze-cuing in human observers. Human Behavior and Evolution Society in Fullerton, CA, USA. May 2009.

The ability to follow others’ gaze is essential for fluent social interaction, playing a crucial role in social learning, collaboration, understanding others’ intentions, and threat assessment. While cognitive models typically propose that the extent to which we follow others’ gaze is unaffected by non-gaze cues (e.g., facial expressions or explicit social knowledge), recent research has challenged this widely held view. In particular, a recent study demonstrating that macaques follow the gaze direction of dominant conspecifics more than that of subordinate conspecifics suggests that cues of dominance can modulate gaze-cuing in at least one primate species. Using a simple spatial cuing task, 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 masculinized (i.e., dominant) faces than from feminized (i.e., subordinate) faces. Importantly, this effect of facial dominance on gaze-cuing decreased as viewing time was increased, indicating that the effect of dominance on gaze-cuing is driven by involuntary responses. Our findings suggest that the mechanisms that underpin gaze-following evolved to be sensitive to cues of others’ dominance, potentially because such differential gaze-cuing promoted desirable outcomes from encounters with dominant individuals.

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