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The role of social cues in the involuntary attribution of intentionality.

Hudson, Matthew


Matthew Hudson


Chang Hong Liu


Predicting the behavior of others is crucial in social interactions and requires sophisticated cognitive mechanisms with which to do so. In order to make a more informed prediction, it is necessary to integrate information about the mental state and intentions of the actor with the perception of the action itself. The aim of this thesis was to investigate in what way social cues that convey another person's goals and intentions contribute to an observer's anticipation of that person's actions.The first three experiments used a representational momentum paradigm to test the hypothesis that judgments of how far another agent's head has rotated are influenced by the perceived gaze direction of that agent. Participants observed a video-clip of a face rotating 60⁰ towards them starting from the left or right profile view. The gaze direction of the face was either congruent with, ahead of, or lagging behind the angle of rotation. Following this, two static faces, at varying angles of rotation with respect to the end-point angle of the face in the video-clip, were presented simultaneously. The task of the participants was to decide which of the two heads was at an angle best resembling the angle of the end-point of the moving face. The critical test condition consisted of one test face oriented at 10⁰ before, and the other at 10⁰ after the end-point.In experiment 1 the gaze-lagging condition elicited a significant underestimation of the rotation compared to the "congruent" and "ahead" gaze conditions. Participants did not exhibit similar biases when judging the rotation of several non-face control stimuli with visual features that mimicked different aspects of gaze direction, in particular the configuration of black and white components and the directional information it conveys. In experiment 2, the stimuli were spatially inverted to disrupt the integration of gaze direction and head rotation. Under these circumstances there was no effect of social cues on action anticipation, while presentation in an upright orientation replicated the effect observed in experiment 1. In experiment 3 the effect of gaze persisted when the actor expressed an avoidance motivation (fear, disgust) but not when expressing an approach motivation (happiness, anger). As the goal of an action that moves toward the observer with an avoidance expression is ambiguous but is unambiguous when expressing approach, it is concluded that the use of gaze as a cue to the end-point of the action is flexible and depends on the perceived ambiguity of the agent's behavioural intentions.Experiment 4 assessed the role that social cues have in attributing the intentions of an individual. Furthermore, it looked at whether this capacity is related to individual differences in empathising, systemising and the extent to which participants possess autistic-like traits. Participants completed a gaze cueing experiment in which a centrally presented gaze averted to the left or right preceded the appearance of a target in either the gazed at location (valid) or on the opposite side of the screen (invalid). The difference in target detection times between valid and invalid trials is a measure of how quickly an observer is able to orient their attention in the direction that someone is looking. The speed with which participant's oriented attention in response to the gaze direction was expected to depend on the intentions attributed to the identity. Participants initially completed a learning phase in which the three identities were presented. The gaze and expression of the identities was such that one conveyed a prosocial intention, one conveyed an antisocial intention and one was spatially predictive of target location. It was found that those with high empathising skills and few autistic traits showed a smaller cueing effect in response to the gaze of the antisocial identity than the prosocial identity. Those with more autistic traits and systemising skills showed a larger cueing effect in response to the gaze of the predictive identity. This suggests that both groups were able to orient attention in response to gaze direction, but that they prioritised different aspects of the gazers intentions. Those who are more sensitive to social information learnt the social intentions of the individual and this decreased the cueing effect in response to a negative identity. Those less sensitive to social information but more sensitive to spatial regularities learnt that one identity was spatially predictive and consequently increased the cueing effect in response to the gaze direction of that identity.Overall, these studies suggest that social cues are automatically integrated in the representations of the perceived actions of others, and contribute to anticipations of how they will behave in the immediate future. This plays a crucial role in Theory of Mind and in enabling us to successfully interact with others.


Hudson, M. (2009). The role of social cues in the involuntary attribution of intentionality. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 16, 2011
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Psychology
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Psychology, The University of Hull
Award Date Dec 1, 2009


Thesis (1.6 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2009 Hudson, Matthew. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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