Man's best furiend: The direct and averted gaze cues of humans and dogs are processed similarly

  • Anna Michelle McPhee Centre for Motor Control, Faulty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto
  • Joseph Manzone NeuroBehavioural Lab, School of Kinesiology, University of Western Ontario
  • Timothy N Welsh Centre for Motor Control, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto

Abstract

Humans engage in frequent interactions amongst and between different species of animals to complete a variety of tasks. During these interactions, such as playing catch or fetch, visual gaze acts as an important cue to facilitate the completion of this task. The objective of the present study was to examine how humans process the visual gaze of non-human animals, and in particular whether or not humans are sensitive to the direct and averted visual gaze of dogs. A visual search experiment was conducted where participants were required to indicate if a target was present or absent in a search array of distractor items (targets present on 50% of trials). Participants performed the visual search task with human and dog gaze cues in a blocked fashion. Reaction times for the dog stimuli were significantly shorter than those for human stimuli. As well, participants detected averted visual gaze targets faster than direct visual gaze targets. Importantly, the averted visual gaze advantage was observed for both human and dog stimuli suggesting that the strategies used for the human targets were not different from the pattern of strategies used to detect the dog targets. Overall, the facilitation effect observed for the averted visual gaze and the dog stimuli are contradictory to previous findings in the literature. This discrepancy may have resulted from participants using the low-level features of the stimuli, such as the amount and distribution of white/black regions, to guide their visual search instead of higher-order processes related to gaze direction.

Acknowledgments: Joel Sartore Photography Inc.