Elina Birmingham, Jelena Ristic and Alan Kingstone

in Cognitive Neuroscience, Development, and Psychopathology

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780195315455
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199979066 | DOI:

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Gaze following, a key component of social attention, has received substantial research interest over the past few decades. There has been an increasing trend to study gaze following using controlled computer-based laboratory tasks. While these methods offer more control over the experimental setting, they remove much of what is unique about real-world social situations. This chapter argues that the use of highly simplified, structured social attention experiments may be reducing the natural variance in behavior that is expected in real-world social settings, thus limiting what social attention researchers can discover. Examples are drawn from research with healthy individuals and individuals with known social attention difficulties (i.e., autism spectrum disorders [ASD]). These examples illustrate that the most interesting and robust social attention findings may come from an approach that seeks to incorporate the complexity and ambiguity of real-world social situations. This approach, Cognitive Ethology, is discussed.

Keywords: social attention; gaze following; autism spectrum disorders; real-world settings; Cognitive Ethology

Chapter.  12404 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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