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Article Dans Une Revue Frontiers in Psychology Année : 2022

Gaze direction as a facial cue of memory retrieval state


Gaze direction is a powerful social cue that indicates the direction of attention and can be used to decode others’ mental states. When an individual looks at an external object, inferring where their attention is focused from their gaze direction is easy. But when people are immersed in memories, their attention is oriented towards their inner world. Is there any specific gaze direction in this situation, and if so, which one? While trying to remember, a common behavior is gaze aversion, which has mostly been reported as an upward-directed gaze. Our primary aim was to evaluate whether gaze direction plays a role in the inference of the orientation of attention—i.e., external vs. internal—in particular, whether an upward direction is considered as an indicator of attention towards the internal world. Our secondary objective was to explore whether different gaze directions are consistently attributed to different types of internal mental states and, more specifically, memory states (autobiographical or semantic memory retrieval, or working memory). Gaze aversion is assumed to play a role in perceptual decoupling, which is supposed to support internal attention. We therefore also tested whether internal attention was associated with high gaze eccentricity because the mismatch between head and eye direction alters visual acuity. We conducted two large-sample (160–163 participants) online experiments. Participants were asked to choose which mental state—among different internal and external attentional states—they would attribute to faces with gazes oriented in different directions. Participants significantly associated internal attention with an upward-averted gaze across experiments, while external attention was mostly associated with a gaze remaining on the horizontal axis. This shows that gaze direction is robustly used by observers to infer others’ mental states. Unexpectedly, internal attentional states were not more associated with gaze eccentricity at high (30°) than low (10°) eccentricity and we found that autobiographical memory retrieval, but not the other memory states, was highly associated with 10° downward gaze. This reveals the possible existence of different types of gaze aversion for different types of memories and opens new perspectives.
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Dates et versions

hal-03931470 , version 1 (09-01-2023)



Anaïs Servais, Christophe Hurter, Emmanuel Barbeau. Gaze direction as a facial cue of memory retrieval state. Frontiers in Psychology, 2022, 13, ⟨10.3389/fpsyg.2022.1063228⟩. ⟨hal-03931470⟩
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