To obtain information about another person during social interactions, we tend to focus on the face and in particular the eyes of our interaction partner. We do so because the eyes of others communicate subtle but crucial signals about their intentions and goals.
Through a collaboration with Nicolas Burra from the University of Geneva, Dr Vrticka has the opportunity to investigate how social information is conveyed by means of eye gaze direction (in combination with head orientation), and what influence interindividual differences have on eye gaze processing. In so doing, they concentrate on a particular effect during visual search called the “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect.
The “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect has first been described in 1995 by von Grünau and Anston. In a paradigm where participants were asked to either detect a straight gaze target among averted gaze distractors or an averted gaze target among straight gaze distractors, there was an overall faster detection of straight gaze (versus averted gaze) targets. In a subsequent study by Conty et al. (2006), the additional factor head orientation (frontal versus deviated) was introduced. In so doing, the “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect was found to also depend on head orientation, because it was present by means of an eye gaze by head orientation interaction (slowest detection and highest error rate for averted eye gaze targets on a deviated head).
The following two projects were completed / are underway:
1) The “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect and personality – a behavioural study
2) The “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect and personality – an EEG study
Please see for more details below.
1) The “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect and personality – a behavioral study
In the first beharioural study, N= 51 young healthy adults were presented with a visual search task aiming at eliciting the “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect by means of an eye gaze by head orientation interaction, and interindividual differences in personality were assessed particularly related to three different kinds of anxiety: trait anxiety, social anxiety, and attachment anxiety. The aim was to reproduce the “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect by means of an eye gaze by head orientation interaction reported by Conty et al. (2006), and to reveal differential influences of anxiety on the latter.
The corresponding paper is available in the journal Scientific Reports: Burra, N., Massait, S., Vrtička, P. (2019; available online February 11). Differential Impact of Trait, Social, and Attachment Anxiety on the Stare-in-the-Crowd Effect. Scientific Reports, Volume 9, Article number: 1797. [link]
The paper describes two main findings:
(1) We were able to replicate the previously observed “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect by means of an eye gaze by head orientation interaction reported by Conty et al. (2006), for both response times and accuracy (search efficiency). We furthermore detected an eye gaze by head orientation by set size interaction for accuracy – which means that a search asymmetry (i.e., the increase in response times and accuracy for increasing task difficulty) was also present.
(2) We found interesting interactions between social anxiety & attachment anxiety (but not trait anxiety) and the “Stare-in-the-Crowd” effect for search asymmetry, with slightly different interaction patterns. Putative explanations for these differences are provided in the paper’s discussion section.
2) Eye gaze and attachment – an EEG study
Behavioral and EEG data has been acquired in N= 50 participants using facial stimuli allowing for the derivation of an eye gaze by head orientation interaction, and a questionnaire capturing interindividual differences in attachment (RSQ) was administered as well.
The corresponding paper is currently under review. More information will follow as soon as possible.