The neural time course of evaluating self-initiated joint attention bids

Nathan Caruana*, Peter de Lissa, Genevieve McArthur

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: During interactions with other people, we constantly evaluate the significance of our social partner's gaze shifts in order to coordinate our behaviour with their perspective. In this study, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate the neural time course of evaluating gaze shifts that signal the success of self-initiated joint attention bids. Method: Nineteen participants were allocated to a "social" condition, in which they played a cooperative game with an anthropomorphic virtual character whom they believed was controlled by a human partner in a nearby laboratory. Participants were required to initiate joint attention towards a target. In response, the virtual partner shifted his gaze congruently towards the target - thus achieving joint attention - or incongruently towards a different location. Another 19 participants completed the same task in a non-social "control" condition, in which arrows, believed to be controlled by a computer program, pointed at a location that was either congruent or incongruent with the participant's target fixation. Results: In the social condition, ERPs to the virtual partner's incongruent gaze shifts evoked significantly larger P350 and P500 peaks compared to congruent gaze shifts. This P350 and P500 morphology was absent in both the congruent and incongruent control conditions. Discussion: These findings are consistent with previous claims that gaze shifts differing in their social significance modulate central-parietal ERPs 350. ms following the onset of the gaze shift. Our control data highlights the social specificity of the observed P350 effect, ruling out explanations pertaining to attention modulation or error detection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-52
Number of pages10
JournalBrain and Cognition
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015


  • joint attention
  • eye gaze
  • ERPs
  • eye tracking
  • virtual reality
  • social interaction


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