It has been proposed that the orienting of attention in the same direction as another's point of gaze relies on innate brain mechanisms which are present from birth, but direct evidence relating to the influence of eye gaze cues on attentional orienting in young children is limited. In two experiments, 137 children aged 3-10 years old performed an adapted pro-saccade task with centrally presented uninformative eye gaze, finger pointing and arrow pre-cues which were either congruent or incongruent with the direction of target presentations. When the central cue overlapped with presentation of the peripheral target (Experiment 1), children up to 5 years old had difficulty disengaging fixation from central fixation in order to saccade to the target. This effect was found to be particularly marked for eye gaze cues. When central cues were extinguished simultaneously with peripheral target onset (Experiment 2), this effect was greatly reduced. In both experiments finger pointing cues (image of pointing index finger presented at fixation) exerted a strong influence on saccade reaction time to the peripheral stimulus for the youngest group of children (<5 years). Overall the results suggest that although young children are strongly engaged by centrally presented eye gaze cues, the directional influence of such cues on overt attentional orienting is only present in older children, meaning that the effect is unlikely to be dependent upon an innate brain module. Instead, the results are consistent with the existence of stimulus-response associations which develop with age and environmental experience.
- Child Development/physiology
- Child, Preschool
- Fixation, Ocular/physiology
- Orientation, Spatial/physiology