Jones BC, DeBruine LM, Main JC, Little AC, Welling LLM, Feinberg DR & Tiddeman BP (2010). Facial cues of dominance modulate reflexive gaze-following in human observers. European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association in Wroclaw, Poland. March 2010.

Objectives: The ability to follow others’ gaze is essential for fluent social interaction, playing a crucial role in social learning, collaboration, threat assessment and understanding others’ intentions. While cognitive psychologists have generally proposed that the extent to which observers follow others’ gaze is unaffected by non-gaze cues (e.g., facial expressions or explicit social knowledge), a recent study of gaze-following in macaques has challenged this widely held view; macaques follow the gaze direction of dominant conspecifics more than that of subordinate conspecifics, demonstrating that cues of dominance modulate gaze-following in at least one primate species. Consequently, we investigated whether facial cues of dominance modulate gaze-following in humans in a similar way. Methods: We used a standard spatial cuing paradigm to compare gaze-following behaviour when viewing masculinised (i.e., dominant) and feminised (i.e., subordinate) versions of face images. Results: At short viewing times, observers demonstrated a greater gaze-following effect for gaze cues from masculinised (i.e., dominant) faces than from feminised (i.e., subordinate) faces. Importantly, this effect of facial masculinity on gaze-following decreased as viewing time was increased, indicating that the effect is driven by involuntary responses. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the mechanisms that underpin reflexive 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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