Gaze cues and language in communication

  • R. G. MacDonald

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    During collaboration, people communicate using verbal and non-verbal cues, including gaze cues. Spoken language is usually the primary medium of communication in these interactions, yet despite this co-occurrence of speech and gaze cueing, most experiments have used paradigms without language. Furthermore, previous research has shown that myriad social factors influence behaviour during interactions, yet most studies investigating responses to gaze have been conducted in a lab, far removed from any natural interaction. It was the aim of this thesis to investigate the relationship between language and gaze cue utilisation in natural collaborations. For this reason, the initial study was largely observational, allowing for spontaneous natural language and gaze. Participants were found to rarely look at their partners, but to do so strategically, with listeners looking more at speakers when the latter were of higher social status. Eye movement behaviour also varied with the type of language used in instructions, so in a second study, a more controlled (but still real-world) paradigm was used to investigate the effect of language type on gaze utilisation. Participants used gaze cues flexibly, by seeking and following gaze more when the cues were accompanied by distinct featural verbal information compared to overlapping spatial verbal information. The remaining three studies built on these findings to investigate the relationship between language and gaze using a much more controlled paradigm. Gaze and language cues were reduced to equivalent artificial stimuli and the reliability of each cue was manipulated. Even in this artificial paradigm, language was preferred when cues were equally reliable, supporting the idea that gaze cues are supportive to language. Typical gaze cueing effects were still found, however the size of these effects was modulated by gaze cue reliability. Combined, the studies in this thesis show that although gaze cues may automatically and quickly affect attention, their use in natural communication is mediated by the form and content of concurrent spoken language.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBenjamin Tatler (Supervisor), Nick Hopkins (Supervisor), Alissa Melinger (Supervisor) & Wayne Murray (Supervisor)


    • Psychology
    • Social cognition
    • Social attention
    • Non-verbal communication
    • Eye-tracking

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