Attending to other people’s gaze can provide information about their mental states, such as their interests and goals. For example, if your dinner companion’s gaze rests upon a wine bottle, this might indicate that he would like a drink. As such, the location of eye-gaze is a powerful non-verbal social cue.
Recent research in the lab has examined how the brain links another person’s gaze to objects in the environment. For example, observing someone look at a clock means something different to seeing her gaze longingly at a slice of chocolate cake. The information conveyed is markedly different depending on the object of her gaze. Other work has examined how gaze influences mimicry (automatic imitation). Behavioural research has shown that when someone looks at you, you mimic their actions more. Using fMRI we examined patterns of neural connectivity between brain regions during this key social process.
Ramsey, R., Cross, E. S., & Hamilton, A. F. de C. (2011). Eye can see what you want: posterior intraparietal sulcus encodes the object of an actor’s gaze. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 3400-3409.
Wang, Y., Ramsey, R., & Hamilton, A. F. de C. (2011). The control of mimicry by eye contact is mediated by medial prefrontal cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 31, 12001-12010.