Human body motion captures visual attention and elicits pupillary dilation

Elin H. Williams, Fil Cristino, Emily S. Cross*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


The social motivation theory proposes that individuals naturally orient their attention to the social world. Research has documented the rewarding value of social stimuli, such as biological motion, to typically developed individuals. Here, we used complementary eye tracking measures to investigate how social motion cues affect attention and arousal. Specifically, we examined whether viewing the human body moving naturally versus mechanically leads to greater attentional engagement and changes in autonomic arousal (as assessed by pupil size measures). Participants completed an attentional disengagement task in two independent experiments, while pupillary responses were recorded. We found that natural, human-like motion produced greater increases in attention and arousal than mechanical motion, whether the moving agent was human or not. These findings contribute an important piece to our understanding of social motivation by demonstrating that human motion is a key social stimulus that engages visual attention and induces autonomic arousal in the viewer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104029
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • biological motion
  • social reward
  • social motivation
  • pupillometry
  • eye-tracking
  • attentional disengagement

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