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The mere perception of eye contact increases arousal during an incidental cognitive task

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Abstract

Research in cognitive neuroscience and social psychology suggests that the perception of a gaze contact may automatically trigger a set of specific processes, including a neurovegetative arousal response, even when it is incidental to a main cognitive task. We aimed at investigating this issue using a visual word spelling task where participants were simultaneously presented with faces under different gaze directions and head orientations. We recorded skin conductance response (SCR) as an indicator of the participants'arousal state and electromyographic (EMG) corrugator activity as an indicator of the task difficulty. Experiments 1 and 2 showed that the mere perception of a direct gaze increased the arousal state of the perceiver, although it was non informative for the task, while averted gaze was associated with enhanced corrugator activity. These results suggest that gaze contact is automatically categorised as a special gaze direction, which triggers specific autonomous response. Moreover, Experiment 3 indicated that such effects were nonetheless context-dependent, as they were not observed under the lower constraint of an easy letter detection task. These data provide the first direct evidence for the view that direct and averted gaze constitute distinct categories of social objects that trigger dissociated autonomic responses.
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Dates and versions

hal-01361767 , version 1 (07-09-2016)

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  • HAL Id : hal-01361767 , version 1

Cite

Laurence Conty, Marisa Russo, Valerie Loehr, Laurent Hugueville, Stéphanie Barbu, et al.. The mere perception of eye contact increases arousal during an incidental cognitive task. 6th Forum of European Neuroscience (FENS), Jul 2008, Genève, Switzerland. ⟨hal-01361767⟩
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