Spatial Attention to Social Cues is not a Monolithic Process


Social stimuli are a highly salient source of information, and seem to possess unique qualities that set them apart from other well-known categories. One characteristic is their ability to elicit spatial orienting, whereby directional stimuli like eye-gaze and pointing gestures act as exogenous cues that trigger automatic shifts of attention that are difficult to inhibit. This effect has been extended to non-social stimuli, like arrows, leading to some uncertainty regarding whether spatial orienting is specialized for social cues. Using a standard spatial cueing paradigm, we found evidence that both a pointing hand and arrow are effective cues, but that the hand is encoded more quickly, leading to overall faster responses. We then extended the paradigm to include multiple cues in order to evaluate congruent vs. incongruent cues. Our results indicate that faster encoding of the social cue leads to downstream effects on the allocation of attention resulting in faster orienting.

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