Faces are processed in a configural manner (i.e., without decomposition into individual face features), an effect attributed to humans having a high degree of face processing expertise. However, even when perceiver expertise is accounted for, configural processing is subject to a number of influences, including the social relevance of a face. In the current research, we present two experiments that document the influence of eye-gaze direction (direct or averted) on configural encoding of faces. Experiment 1 uses a version of the composite face paradigm to investigate how eye-gaze influences configural encoding. The results indicate that averted gaze disrupts configural encoding compared to direct eye-gaze. Experiment 2 manipulates whether perceivers can engage in configural encoding using face-inversion, and finds the inversion effects are greater for faces with direct than averted-gaze. We interpret these results as evidence that averted eye-gaze signals that a face is subjectively unimportant, thereby disrupting configural encoding.
Young, S.G., Michael Slepian, J.P. Wilson, and K. Hugenberg. "Averted eye-gaze disrupts configural face encoding." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 53 (July 2014): 94-99.
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