Attention and Social Cognition

Rather than processing all of the sensory information available to us, our attentional systems prioritize information that is of strategic importance.  We study the nature of these attentional processes because they provide important insights into who our mind processes visual information, and cognition more generally.  Much of our work focuses on how these attentional processes are influenced by social factors, and we use behavioural and eye tracking measures to study the nature of these social attentional processes.  In some of our experiments we simple measure peoples eye movements in response to simple schematic faces, in which participants are instructed to make an eye movement that is either congruent or incongruent with the eye gaze of the face depicted on the screen (G. Kuhn & Kingstone, 2009) (G. Kuhn & Benson, 2007).  Using these types of paradigms we have explored how the emotional expression of the face influence the extent to which we follow another person’s gaze.


Whilst these types of task can be useful to study gaze following, they fail to capture the true nature of social cognition (Cole, Skarratt, & Kuhn, 2016; Laidlaw, Foulsham, Kuhn, & Kingstone, 2011; Skarratt, Cole, & Kuhn, 2012), and have been trying to develop more naturalistic experimental paradigms to study social attention. For example, in some of these paradigms we measure people’s eye movement whilst they look at pictures which depict natural scenes and we measure how the people depicted in the scenes influence where we look (Freebody & Kuhn, 2016).  These studies typically illustrate that people are more likely to look at areas that are looked at by others, and as such eye movements provide use with a natural way of studying social attention.  

We have also studies social attentional processes in the context of misdirection (G. Kuhn, Tatler, & Cole, 2009) and the Vanishing Ball Illusion (G. Kuhn & Land, 2006).


All of these paradigms are limited in that they do not allow for genuine social interactions and thus they fail to capture to true nature of real social interaction.  We have recently developed a new paradigm in which we use magic techniques to trick our participants into believing they are having a genuine skype conversation (Mansour & Kuhn, submitted).  This paradigm allows us to study natural social attentional processes under strict experimental control, and we are using it to study attentional atypicalities that may underlie the social communication difficulties in autism (see also (G. Kuhn, Benson, et al., 2010; G. Kuhn, Kourkoulou, & Leekam, 2010) and social anxiety.  We are currently also looking at the way in which gaze following is modulated by mental states (G.  Kuhn, Vacaityte, D’Souza, & Cole, submitted). 





  • Cole, G. G. , Skarratt, P. A., & Kuhn, G. (2016). Real person interaction in visual attention research. European Psychologist, 21(2), 141-149. doi: doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000243

  • Freebody, S., & Kuhn, G. (2016). Own-age biases in adults’ and children’s joint attention: Biased face prioritization, but not gaze following! The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-9. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2016.1247899

  • Kuhn, G. , Vacaityte, I., D’Souza, A., & Cole, G. (2018). What can you see? Mental states modulate gaze following, but not automatically. Cognition.

  • Kuhn, G., & Benson, V. (2007). The influence of eye-gaze and arrow pointing distractor cues on voluntary eye movements. Perception & Psychophysics, 69(6), 966-971. doi: 10.3758/bf03193934

  • Kuhn, G., Benson, V., Fletcher-Watson, S., Kovshoff, H., McCormick, C. A., Kirkby, J., & Leekam, S. R. (2010). Eye movements affirm: Automatic overt gaze and arrow cueing for typical adults and adults with autism spectrum disorder. Experimental Brain Research, 201(2), 155-165. doi: 10.1007/s00221-009-2019-7

  • Kuhn, G., & Kingstone, A. (2009). Look away! Eyes and arrows engage oculomotor responses automatically. Attention Perception & Psychophysics, 71(2), 314-327. doi: 10.3758/app.71.2.314

  • Kuhn, G., Kourkoulou, A., & Leekam, S. R. (2010). How magic changes our expectations about autism. Psychological Science, 21(10), 1487-1493. doi: 10.1177/0956797610383435

  • Kuhn, G., & Land, M. F. (2006). There's more to magic than meets the eye. Current Biology, 16(22), R950-R951.

  • Kuhn, G., Pickering, A., & Cole, G. G. (2015). "Rare" emotive faces and attentional orienting. Emotion. doi: 10.1037/emo0000050

  • Kuhn, G., Tatler, B. W., & Cole, G. G. (2009). You look where i look! Effect of gaze cues on overt and covert attention in misdirection. Visual Cognition, 17(6), 925-944.

  • Kuhn, G., & Tipples, J. (2011). Increased gaze following for fearful faces. It depends on what you're looking for! Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18(1), 89-95. doi: 10.3758/s13423-010-0033-1

  • Laidlaw, K. E. W., Foulsham, T., Kuhn, G., & Kingstone, A. (2011). Potential social interactions are important to social attention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(14), 5548-5553. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1017022108

  • Mansour, H. , & Kuhn, G. (submitted). Studying ‘natural’ eye movements in an ‘unnatural’ social environment: The influence of social activity, framing, and sub-clinical traits (gars, aq) on gaze aversion.

  • Skarratt, P. A., Cole, G. G., & Kuhn, G. (2012). Visual cognition during real social interaction. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 9. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00196