Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Are You Looking at Me?

eye spy

Observers have a tendency to believe that someone's gaze is directed towards themselves.

By Colin Clifford & Isabelle Mareschal

Is that person wearing the sunglasses looking at you? Or are we programmed to anticipate that we are being watched even when we’re not?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

We rely on our vision to provide us with moment-by-moment information on the world around us. But the apparent effortlessness with which we enjoy a rich, seamless visual experience belies the amount of work going on in our brains. Roughly one-third of the human brain is devoted to vision, but what is all that grey matter doing?

Our brains are not merely passive receivers of sensory input from our eyes. Indeed, the visual information that reaches our brains from our eyes can be quite poor, yet we perceive a coherent and very detailed view of the world. How is this possible?

One idea is that the incoming stimulation to our brain is actively interpreted on the basis of specific expectations about the structure of the environment. For example, our vision is biased to assume that illumination comes from above, that objects are convex (solid) and not concave (hollow), and that contours tend to be oriented horizontally and vertically rather than diagonally. Thus, our brains somehow represent implicit expectations about the structure of the world around us.

Our research is looking at the rules of thumb our visual systems employs in social situations, such as looking at someone’s face. We have recently published several studies investigating how we perceive the gaze of another person – that is, the direction in which someone else is looking.

We are...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.