Why are social interactions found quickly in visual search tasks?

Tim Vestner, Katie L.H. Gray, Richard Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


When asked to find a target dyad amongst non-interacting individuals, participants respond faster when the individuals in the target dyad are shown face-to-face (suggestive of a social interaction), than when they are presented back-to-back. Face-to-face dyads may be found faster because social interactions recruit specialized processing. However, human faces and bodies are salient directional cues that exert a strong influence on how observers distribute their attention. Here we report that a similar search advantage exists for ‘point-to-point’ and ‘point-to-face’ target arrangements constructed using arrows – a non-social directional cue. These findings indicate that the search advantage seen for face-to-face dyads is a product of the directional cues present within arrangements, not the fact that they are processed as social interactions, per se. One possibility is that, when arranged in the face-to-face or point-to-point configuration, pairs of directional cues (faces, bodies, arrows) create an attentional ‘hot-spot’ – a region of space in between the elements to which attention is directed by multiple cues. Due to the presence of this hot-spot, observers' attention may be drawn to the target location earlier in a serial visual search.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104270
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Arrows
  • Direction cues
  • Social attention
  • Social interaction
  • Visual search


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