We preferentially look at other people compared to other aspects of our environment. People, especially their facial expressions and gaze direction, represent valuable cues about what they are thinking and about relevant changes in the environment. The attentional mechanisms behind this preference are rather unknown. I am currently working on two projects that are aimed at investigating these mechanisms of social attention:
1. What happens in the brain when our attention is captured by other people?
For this project, we are measuring EEG combined with eyetracking while participants view pictures of complex social scenes. We want to co-register the two signals and analyze saccade- and fixation-related potentials. We will compare the EEG potentials when the fixation was on heads or bodies versus the non-social background of the stimuli.
2. Which role does social presence play in social attention?
Whether we look at another person’s face depends on whether that person is actually present in our environment (compared to, e.g., a video of the person). Only if the person is really present, we have the opportunity to interact and our own (and the other’s) gaze serves two functions: to gather information from the other and to signal (e.g. that we are adhering to social norms). To further investigate the effect of social presence, we are using an immersive virtual environment and mobile eyetracking.