Four experiments investigate the hypothesis that cues to the direction of another’s social attention produce a reflexive orienting of an observer’s visual attention. Participants were asked to make a simple detection response to a target letter which could appear at one of four locations on a visual display. Before the presentation of the target, one of these possible locations was cued by the orientation of a digitized head stimulus, which appeared at fixation in the centre of the display. Uninformative and to-be-ignored cueing stimuli produced faster target detection latencies at cued relative to uncued locations, but only when the cues appeared 100 msec before the onset of the target (Experiments 1 and 2). The effect was uninfluenced by the introduction of a to-be-attended and relatively informative cue (Experiment 3), but was disrupted by the inversion of the head cues (Experiment 4). It is argued that these findings are consistent with the operation of a reflexive, stimulus-driven or exogenous orienting mechanism which can be engaged by social attention signals.
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