02 November 2012

The eyes have it

Colchester Campus

Dr Tom Foulsham and Julian Levy

New research involving academics at Essex shows that humans are biased to look at eyes − even those of headless monsters.

The findings, published in Royal Society journal Biology Letters, rule out the possibility that the well-known human bias to look at eyes is in fact a bias simply to look at the middle of faces where the eyes happen to be.

The study by academics at Essex and British Columbia University involved an experiment using images of people and monsters. Julian Levy, 14, who had the idea for the study, helped scientists to select images from the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons.

The results show that humans look early and often at the eyes − even those of monsters. For all pictures, the participants looked to the centre of the image first. Second and subsequent fixations demonstrated a preferential bias to look at the eyes, wherever they were on the monster.

Dr Tom Foulsham, from the Department of Psychology who was involved in the study, said: “This confirms that the eyes are special and has implications for psychology, neuroscience and research into autism.”

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