The coordination of attention between individuals is a fundamental part of everyday human social interaction. Previous work has focused on the role of gaze information for guiding responses during joint attention episodes. However, in many contexts, hand gestures such as pointing provide another valuable source of information about the locus of attention. The current study developed a novel virtual reality paradigm to investigate the extent to which initiator gaze information is used by responders to guide joint attention responses in the presence of more visually salient and spatially precise pointing gestures. Dyads were instructed to use pointing gestures to complete a cooperative joint attention task in a virtual environment. Eye and hand tracking enabled real-time interaction and provided objective measures of gaze and pointing behaviours. Initiators displayed gaze behaviours that were spatially congruent with the subsequent pointing gestures. Responders overtly attended to the initiator’s gaze during the joint attention episode. However, both these initiator and responder behaviours were highly variable across individuals. Critically, when responders did overtly attend to their partner’s face, their saccadic reaction times were faster when the initiator’s gaze was also congruent with the pointing gesture, and thus predictive of the joint attention location. These results indicate that humans attend to and process gaze information to facilitate joint attention responsivity, even in contexts where gaze information is implicit to the task and joint attention is explicitly cued by more spatially precise and visually salient pointing gestures.
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- sensorimotor processing
- sensory processing
- social behaviour
- social neuroscience