Wright, Hayley (2011)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.
The work presented in this thesis explored the effectiveness and reflexiveness of attentional reorienting in response to different types of socially salient gestures. A traditional target detection paradigm was employed across experiments, allowing for the direct comparison of validity effects in response to eye gaze shifts, human pointing gestures, and symbolic arrows. Previous research has tended to compare the effects of eye gaze shifts and symbolic arrows, so this thesis attempted to ‘bridge the gap’ in the social orienting literature. The effects of these different types of socially relevant stimuli were investigated in three distinct populations. Firstly, we examined whether pointing gestures were as effective as eye gaze shifts in reorienting attention to the impaired hemifield of patients with parietal lobe damage. We then carried out the same set of experiments with a patient displaying an acquired ‘theory of mind’ deficit, to establish the relative social nature of pointing gestures in comparison to gaze. Finally, we assessed the effects in typically developing adults who display a high proportion of autistic traits, to draw inferences about how these cues are attended to in autistic spectrum disorders. We found that pointing gestures hold a similar social relevance as gaze shifts, and produce largely the same attentional reorienting effects in normal observers. Effects are discussed in terms of reflexive visual attention, neuropsychological disorders, and social cognition, with inferences regarding social networks in the brain.
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