Specificity of age-related differences in eye-gaze following: Evidence from social and non-social stimuli

Gillian Slessor, Cristina Venturini, Emily J Bonny, Pauline Margaret Insch, Anna Rokaszewicz, Ailbhe Noelle Finnerty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Eye-gaze following is a fundamental social skill, facilitating communication. The present series of studies explored adult age-related differences in this key social-cognitive ability.

In Study 1 younger and older adult participants completed a cueing task in which eye-gaze cues were predictive or non-predictive of target location. Another eye-gaze cueing task, assessing the influence of congruent and incongruent eye-gaze cues relative to trials which provided no cue to target location, was administered in Study 2. Finally, in Study 3 the eye-gaze cue was replaced by an arrow.

In Study 1 older adults showed less evidence of gaze following than younger participants when required to strategically follow predictive eye-gaze cues and when making automatic shifts of attention to non-predictive eye-gaze cues. Findings from Study 2 suggested that, unlike younger adults, older participants showed no facilitation effect and thus did not follow congruent eye-gaze cues. They also had significantly weaker attentional costs than their younger counterparts. These age-related differences were not found in the non-social arrow cueing task.

Taken together these findings suggest older adults do not use eye-gaze cues to engage in joint attention, and have specific social difficulties decoding critical information from the eye region.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-22
Number of pages12
JournalJournals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by a Sixth Century Fellowship from the University of Aberdeen .


  • aging
  • arrows
  • attention
  • eye-gaze
  • orienting


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