When You Look Me in the Eyes

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Linna building, Väinö Linna auditorium, address: Kalevantie 5

Doctoral defence of M.Sc. Tingji Chen

When You Look Me in the Eyes: The Interplay between Eye Gaze and Affect

The field of science of the dissertation is Psychology

The opponent is docent Piia Astikainen (University of Tampere). Professor Jari Hietanen acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is English.

When You Look Me in the Eyes: The Interplay between Eye Gaze and Affect

Eye gaze and affect, two important aspects of social interaction, have been suggested to have an interdependent relationship. My dissertation focused on investigating the interplay of eye gaze and affect. More specifically, it investigated how other people’s eye gaze influences observers’ affective responses and whether individuals’ affective states modulate their gaze perception.

For the former question, we measured perceivers’ automatic affective responses to another person’s direct gaze by employing the study paradigms of affective priming and startle reflex. In the affective priming task, participants were required to make speeded evaluations to positive and negative words primed by direct gaze, averted gaze, and closed eyes. The results showed that positive target words were responded to faster after direct gaze primes than after closed eyes primes, while negative words were responded to faster after closed eyes than after direct gaze. These results indicated that direct gaze implicitly elicited more positive affective responses than closed eyes, and thus shortened the response latencies to positive words. We also measured participants’ eyeblink and cardiac startle reflexes to a sudden and loud noise in the context of viewing a live model displaying direct or downward gaze. The results showed that blink and cardiac startle reflexes were smaller in the context of viewing a live stimulus person’s direct versus downward gaze. These results indicated that direct gaze, relative to downward gaze, was automatically perceived as a more positive social signal, thus, attenuating the defensive reflex to a sudden and loud noise. 

Regarding the latter question, we found that gaze perception was not modulated by perceivers’ affective states. Instead, individual differences in social anxiety were associated with gaze perception: individuals with higher levels of social anxiety tended to perceive a wider range of gaze deviations as being directed at them.         

The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2351, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2018. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1857, Tampere University Press 2018. 

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