Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The most important visual stimuli that we encounter in everyday life may be other people, and in particular their eyes. We constantly monitor (and follow) where others are looking, and hundreds of studies have stressed the importance of eyes as uniquely powerful visual stimuli. This dissertation argues otherwise: The eyes are special only insofar as they signal deeper properties about the minds behind them—namely the nature and direction of others’ attention and intentions. We empirically support this view in two ways: First, in studies of ‘minds without eyes’, we demonstrate how well-known gaze effects (such as prioritized processing of eye contact in the ‘stare in the crowd’) readily replicate without any eyes at all, when the direction of attention and intention is signified in other ways. Second, in studies of ‘eyes without minds’, we demonstrate that such gaze effects are reduced when the eyes do not signal any underlying pattern of attention and intentions, even though they clearly look like eyes, as in the phenomenon we have dubbed ‘gaze deflection’. Finally, in a study of what we call ‘unconscious pupillometry,’ we also explore how the visual system automatically and unconsciously prioritizes others’ degree of attention (vs. distraction). Ultimately, what matters is not just perceiving and attending to the relevant physical features, but rather perceiving perception, and attending to attention. Collectively, this work shows how seemingly reflexive visual processes can be surprisingly sophisticated, and how visual processing may extract not only physical attributes, but also mental states.
Colombatto, Clara, "From Eyes to Minds: Perceiving Perception, and Attending to Attention" (2021). Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dissertations. 315.