In social interaction, gaze behavior provides important signals that have a significant impact on our perception of others. Previous investigations, however, have relied on paradigms in which participants are passive observers of other persons’ gazes and do not adjust their gaze behavior as is the case in real-life social encounters. We used an interactive eye-tracking paradigm that allows participants to interact with an anthropomorphic virtual character whose gaze behavior is responsive to where the participant looks on the stimulus screen in real time. The character’s gaze reactions were systematically varied along a continuum from a maximal probability of gaze aversion to a maximal probability of gaze-following during brief interactions, thereby varying contingency and congruency of the reactions. We investigated how these variations influenced whether participants believed that the character was controlled by another person (i.e., a confederate) or a computer program. In a series of experiments, the human confederate was either introduced as naïve to the task, cooperative, or competitive. Results demonstrate that the ascription of humanness increases with higher congruency of gaze reactions when participants are interacting with a naïve partner. In contrast, humanness ascription is driven by the degree of contingency irrespective of congruency when the confederate was introduced as cooperative. Conversely, during interaction with a competitive confederate, judgments were neither based on congruency nor on contingency. These results offer important insights into what renders the experience of an interaction truly social: Humans appear to have a default expectation of reciprocation that can be influenced drastically by the presumed disposition of the interactor to either cooperate or compete.
Pfeiffer, U. J., Timmermans, B., Bente, G., Vogeley, K., & Schilbach, L. (2011). A non-verbal Turing test: differentiating mind from machine in gaze-based social interaction. PloS ONE, 6(11), [e27591]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0027591