Eye contact in active and passive viewing: Event-related brain potential evidence from a combined eye tracking and EEG study.
Eye contact is a salient social cue, which is assumed to influence already early neural correlates of face perception. Specifically, the N170 component of the event-related potential (ERP) has often been found to be larger for faces with an averted gaze as compared to faces that directly look at the observer. In most existing ERP studies, effects of eye contact were investigated under comparatively artificial conditions where participants were instructed to maintain a steady fixation while they passively observed gaze changes in the stimulus face. It is therefore unclear to what extent neural correlates of eye contact generalize to more naturalistic situations that involve a continuous interplay between directed and averted gaze between the communication partners. To start bridging this gap, the present study compared the passive viewing of gaze changes to an active condition in which the participant’s own gaze (measured online with an eye tracker) interacted with the gaze position of a continuously presented stimulus face. We also investigated whether eye contact effects were modulated by the face’s emotional expression. In both the passive and the active viewing condition, N170 amplitudes were larger when the gaze of the stimulus faces was averted rather than directed towards the participant. Furthermore, eye contact decreased P300 amplitudes in both conditions. The emotional expression of the face also modulated the N170, but this effect did not interact with that of gaze direction. We conclude that the neural correlates of gaze perception during active gaze interactions are comparable to those found during passive viewing, encouraging the further study of eye contact effects in more naturalistic settings.
PMID: 32360476 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]
Neuropsychologia. 2020 Apr 30;:107478
Authors: Stephani T, Kirk Driller K, Dimigen O, Sommer W