Poster E24, Monday, March 26, 2:30-4:30 pm, Exhibit Hall C
Individual differences in empathy, but not mentalizing, predict visual attention to naturalistic social stimuli
Callie De La Cerda1, Ashley Frost1, Katherine Warnell1; 1Texas State University
Understanding how visual attention to social stimuli relates to both mentalizing (i.e., thinking about others’ thoughts) and to empathy may help explain individual differences in social ability. Recent research has sought to identify the relationship between visual attention and social traits, but much of this work uses photographs. More naturalistic stimuli may better capture real-world social processes. In the present experiment, we collected eye-tracking data from fifty-one adults while they completed the Spontaneous Theory of Mind Protocol (Rice & Redcay, 2014). In this protocol, participants watch two silent movie clips depicting complex social interactions and then describe what happened in each scene, with the percentage of internal state descriptors serving as a measure of spontaneous mentalizing. We also calculated the percentage of the time each participant focused on characters’ eyes during the film clips. Participants completed an additional mentalizing task involving inferring mental states from photographs of eyes (Reading the Mind in the Eyes; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001) and completed the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) to measure empathy (Davis, 1983). Participants’ fixation time on the eye region during naturalistic social scenes was positively correlated with empathy (r= .341 p=.018) but eye-looking was not related to mentalizing capabilities for either the spontaneous mentalizing task or Reading the Mind the Eyes (rs<.1). The Perspective Taking subscale of the IRI showed the strongest correlations with eye-looking. Although the exact mechanism linking empathy and gaze patterns is unknown, results suggest that more empathetic individuals may be more likely to visually search for social information.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Person perception