In two experiments we examined whether the allocation of attention in natural scene viewing is influenced by the gaze cues (head and eye direction) of an individual appearing in the scene. Each experiment employed a variant of the flicker paradigm in which alternating versions of a scene and a modified version of that scene were separated by a brief blank field. In Experiment 1, participants were able to detect the change made to the scene sooner when an individual appearing in the scene was gazing at the changing object than when the individual was absent, gazing straight ahead, or gazing at a nonchanging object. In addition, participants' ability to detect change deteriorated linearly as the changing object was located progressively further from the line of regard of the gazer. Experiment 2 replicated this change detection advantage of gaze-cued objects in a modified procedure using more critical scenes, a forced-choice change/no-change decision, and accuracy as the dependent variable. These findings establish that in the perception of static natural scenes and in a change detection task, attention is preferentially allocated to objects that are the target of another's social attention.
Langton, S. R. H., O'Donnell, C., Riby, D. M., & Ballantyne, C. J. (2006). Gaze cues influence the allocation of attention in natural scene viewing. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59(12), 2056-2064. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470210600917884