UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Breaking the Fourth Wall of Cognitive Science : Real World Social Attention and the Dual Function of Gaze Risko, Evan F.; Richardson, Daniel; Kingstone, Alan


Research in cognitive science typically places a boundary between the participant and the stimuli they are asked to process. While this separation affords experimental control, it can also severely limit the generalizability of the conclusions that are drawn. Here we review new evidence that some conclusions that have been drawn about social attention do not extend beyond the laboratory. They fundamentally misrepresent how social attention operates in natural social contexts. Critically, these difficulties have led to renewed interest in the dual function of gaze - when in authentic social situations the eyes both collect information from the environment (an encoding function) and communicate one's mental states to others (a signalling function)– which traditional social attention paradigms arguably have failed to capture. We review this recent work and discuss the utility of adopting more naturalistic methods in cognitive science.

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