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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Neurological Disorders - Neuroscience - Pediatrics and Child Health

Gaze Direction and Request Gesture in Social Interactions
Published: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Author: Alessandro Innocenti et al.

by Alessandro Innocenti, Elisa De Stefani, Nicolò Francesco Bernardi, Giovanna Cristina Campione, Maurizio Gentilucci

One of the most important faculties of humans is to understand the behaviour of other conspecifics. The present study aimed at determining whether, in a social context, request gesture and gaze direction of an individual are enough to infer his/her intention to communicate, by searching for their effects on the kinematics of another individual's arm action. In four experiments participants reached, grasped and lifted a bottle filled of orange juice in presence of an empty glass. In experiment 1, the further presence of a conspecific not producing any request with a hand and gaze did not modify the kinematics of the sequence. Conversely, experiments 2 and 3 showed that the presence of a conspecific producing only a request of pouring by holding the glass with his/her right hand, or only a request of comunicating with the conspecific, by using his/her gaze, affected lifting and grasping of the sequence, respectively. Experiment 4 showed that hand gesture and eye contact simultaneously produced affected the entire sequence. The results suggest that the presence of both request gesture and direct gaze produced by an individual changes the control of a motor sequence executed by another individual. We propose that a social request activates a social affordance that interferes with the control of whatever sequence and that the gaze of the potential receiver who held the glass with her hand modulates the effectiveness of the manual gesture. This paradigm if applied to individuals affected by autism disorder can give new insight on the nature of their impairment in social interaction and communication.