Processing social aspects of human gaze: A combined fMRI-DTI study

Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology & Imaging of Cognition, Department of Neuroscience & Clinic of Neurology, Medical School, University of Geneva, Switzerland.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.13). 03/2011; 55(1):411-9. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.11.033
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Human gaze is a critical social cue that can reveal intentions and dispositions of others. The right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) is thought to be critically involved in processing eye gaze information. We combined diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify direct neural connections of right pSTS and to determine how these connections are modulated by the social significance of perceived gaze shifts. Participants saw faces with direct or averted gaze during event-related fMRI. Half of these faces remained static, and half displayed a dynamic gaze shift either towards or away from the subject. Social attention (dynamic gaze shifts towards the observer) not only increased activity in right pSTS, but also its functional connectivity with the right anterior insula (aIns) and right fusiform gyrus (FG). However, direct fiber connections from pSTS were demonstrated by DTI for the right aIns, but not the right FG. Moreover, the right FG responded to eye motion irrespective of direction and social significance; whereas the right aIns was selectively sensitive to social significance (i.e. gaze shifts towards the observer), but not generally to eye motion. We conclude that the social aspects of mutual gaze contact are processed by direct fiber pathways between right pSTS and right aIns; whereas increased connectivity with FG could reflect an enhanced perceptual analysis of changing facial features in dynamic gaze conditions and involves indirect fiber pathways with pSTS, perhaps via motion-selective regions in middle temporal (MT) gyrus that exhibited strong white-matter connections with both pSTS and FG and could thus provide inputs to these two areas.

  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: For successful communication conversational partners need to estimate each other's current knowledge state. Nonverbal facial and bodily cues can reveal relevant information about how confident a speaker is about what they are saying. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we aimed to identify brain regions that encode how confident a speaker is perceived to be. Participants viewed videos of people answering general knowledge questions, and judged each respondent's confidence in their answer. Our results suggest a distinct role of two neural networks known to support social inferences, the so-called mentalizing and the mirroring network. While activation in both networks underlies the processing of nonverbal cues, only activity in the mentalizing network, most notably the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the bilateral temporoparietal junction (TPJ), is modulated by how confident the respondent is judged to be. Our results support an integrative account of the mirroring and mentalizing network, in which the two systems support each other in aiding pragmatic processing.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 08/2014; DOI:10.1093/scan/nsu111 · 5.88 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The Mona Lisa effect describes the phenomenon when the eyes of a portrait appear to look at the observer regardless of the observer's position. Recently, the metaphor of a cone of gaze has been proposed to describe the range of gaze directions within which a person feels looked at. The width of the gaze cone is about five degrees of visual angle to either side of a given gaze direction. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how the brain regions involved in gaze direction discrimination would differ between centered and decentered presentation positions of a portrait exhibiting eye contact. Subjects observed a given portrait's eyes. By presenting portraits with varying gaze directions-eye contact (0°), gaze at the edge of the gaze cone (5°), and clearly averted gaze (10°), we revealed that brain response to gaze at the edge of the gaze cone was similar to that produced by eye contact and different from that produced by averted gaze. Right fusiform gyrus and right superior temporal sulcus showed stronger activation when the gaze was averted as compared to eye contact. Gaze sensitive areas, however, were not affected by the portrait's presentation location. In sum, although the brain clearly distinguishes averted from centered gaze, a substantial change of vantage point does not alter neural activity, thus providing a possible explanation why the feeling of eye contact is upheld even in decentered stimulus positions. Hum Brain Mapp, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Human Brain Mapping 10/2014; 36(2). DOI:10.1002/hbm.22651 · 6.92 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Gaze processing deficits are a seminal, early, and enduring behavioral deficit in autism spectrum disorder (ASD); however, a comprehensive characterization of the neural processes mediating abnormal gaze processing in ASD has yet to be conducted.
    Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders 06/2014; 6(1):15. DOI:10.1186/1866-1955-6-15 · 3.71 Impact Factor
    This article is viewable in ResearchGate's enriched format

Full-text (2 Sources)

Available from
May 21, 2014