Culture modulates face scanning during dyadic social interactions

Abstract

Recent studies have revealed significant cultural modulations on face scanning strategies, thereby challenging the notion of universality in face perception. Current findings are based on screen-based paradigms, which offer high degrees of experimental control, but lack critical characteristics common to social interactions (e.g., social presence, dynamic visual saliency), and complementary approaches are required. The current study used head-mounted eye tracking techniques to investigate the visual strategies for face scanning in British/Irish (in the UK) and Japanese adults (in Japan) who were engaged in dyadic social interactions with a local research assistant. We developed novel computational data pre-processing tools and data-driven analysis techniques based on Monte Carlo permutation testing. The results revealed significant cultural differences in face scanning during social interactions for the first time, with British/Irish participants showing increased mouth scanning and the Japanese group engaging in greater eye and central face looking. Both cultural groups further showed more face orienting during periods of listening relative to speaking, and during the introduction task compared to a storytelling game, thereby replicating previous studies testing Western populations. Altogether, these findings point to the significant role of postnatal social experience in specialised face perception and highlight the adaptive nature of the face processing system.

Publication
In Scientific Reports