Just one look: Direct gaze briefly disrupts visual working memory

J Jessica Wang, Ian A Apperly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Direct gaze is a salient social cue that affords rapid detection. A body of research suggests that direct gaze enhances performance on memory tasks (e.g., Hood, Macrae, Cole-Davies, & Dias, Developmental Science, 1, 67-71, 2003). Nonetheless, other studies highlight the disruptive effect direct gaze has on concurrent cognitive processes (e.g., Conty, Gimmig, Belletier, George, & Huguet, Cognition, 115(1), 133-139, 2010). This discrepancy raises questions about the effects direct gaze may have on concurrent memory tasks. We addressed this topic by employing a change detection paradigm, where participants retained information about the color of small sets of agents. Experiment 1 revealed that, despite the irrelevance of the agents' eye gaze to the memory task at hand, participants were worse at detecting changes when the agents looked directly at them compared to when the agents looked away. Experiment 2 showed that the disruptive effect was relatively short-lived. Prolonged presentation of direct gaze led to recovery from the initial disruption, rather than a sustained disruption on change detection performance. The present study provides the first evidence that direct gaze impairs visual working memory with a rapidly-developing yet short-lived effect even when there is no need to attend to agents' gaze.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2016


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