Automatic attentional orienting to other people’s gaze in schizophrenia

Robyn Langdon*, Kiley Seymour, Tracey Williams, Philip B. Ward

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    15 Citations (Scopus)


    Explicit tests of social cognition have revealed pervasive deficits in schizophrenia. Less is known of automatic social cognition in schizophrenia. We used a spatial orienting task to investigate automatic shifts of attention cued by another person’s eye gaze in 29 patients and 28 controls. Central photographic images of a face with eyes shifted left or right, or looking straight ahead, preceded targets that appeared left or right of the cue. To examine automatic effects, cue direction was non-predictive of target location. Cue–target intervals were 100, 300, and 800 ms. In non-social control trials, arrows replaced eye-gaze cues. Both groups showed automatic attentional orienting indexed by faster reaction times (RTs) when arrows were congruent with target location across all cue–target intervals. Similar congruency effects were seen for eye-shift cues at 300 and 800 ms intervals, but patients showed significantly larger congruency effects at 800 ms, which were driven by delayed responses to incongruent target locations. At short 100-ms cue–target intervals, neither group showed faster RTs for congruent than for incongruent eye-shift cues, but patients were significantly slower to detect targets after direct-gaze cues. These findings conflict with previous studies using schematic line drawings of eye-shifts that have found automatic attentional orienting to be reduced in schizophrenia. Instead, our data indicate that patients display abnormalities in responding to gaze direction at various stages of gaze processing—reflected by a stronger preferential capture of attention by another person’s direct eye contact at initial stages of gaze processing and difficulties disengaging from a gazed-at location once shared attention is established.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1549-1558
    Number of pages10
    JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2017


    • attentional orienting
    • gaze processing
    • cueing paradigm
    • persecutory delusions
    • schizophrenia


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