Those Eyes Don’t Lie – Or Do They?
Jenny Galvao

Research carried out by Robert D. Rogers of Bangor University and his associates examined how gaze direction relates to influencing financial altruism. Gaze direction is a very strong cue that can signal or deceive the object of interest based gaze congruence or matching.

The study further explored the generous monetary offers and what may lead to them. Results found that Individuals who give off reliable gaze cues, are often seen as altruistic or fair, which in turn makes the individual giving act more altruistically.

“Nonconscious detection of reliable gaze cues can prompt altruism toward others, probably reflecting the interplay of systems that encode identity and control gaze-evoked attention, integrating the reinforcement value of gaze cues,” the researchers elaborate.

In this study, five separate experiments were conducted, but the fourth experiment looked at what were titled “(true) dictator games with head movements”. In this fourth experiment, 26 adults participated first in an amended gaze-cueing task (a face gazing toward an object, or in the opposite direction), then a one-shot dictator game, then ratings of trustworthiness and approachability, and finally a manipulation check for the gaze cues.

In the one-shot dictator game, faces pop up and participants are told they have ten dollars, and are asked how much they would give to this person. They then rated the trustworthiness and the approachability of each of the 16 faces they viewed in the gaze-cueing task. The manipulation test was to ensure participants did not know which faces reliably cued the locations of objects (making them valid), or cued unreliably.

None of the participants knew certain faces always cued the right location or always cued the incorrect location. Participants gave money to both invalid face gazes (guiding them incorrectly) and the valid face gazes (which guided them correctly). Almost half of the participants made much larger offers to the valid faces, but most participants made smaller or equal offers to the invalid faces.

These results were surprising, seeing as there was no significant difference in the monetary allocations given to valid vs. invalid faces. The relationship between person-identity and gaze-reliability was broken with the head shifts.

“Although this procedure generated robust gaze-cuing effects, the reliability of these gaze cues was not now related to the amount of money allocated to valid faces compared to invalid faces in a series of one-shot (true) DGs,” say the researchers.

We become distracted form the main goal (in this case, determining the validity of faces) by acts as simple as a head shift. However, gaze cue determination usually does not lead us astray. Gaze cues are definitely a prominent signal in individual goals and motivation; sometimes they are honest and we pick up on that, but sometimes they are deceptive and we fall victim to them.

Keep in mind that following someone’s gaze may give you the answer you’re looking for, but be cautious, as this can also be used to deceive you!

Jenny Galvao_smallAbout the Author: Jenny Galvao is an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph studying psychology.





Rogers, R.D., Andrew P. Bayliss, Anna Szepietowska, Laura Dale, Lydia Reeder, Gloria Pizzamiglio, Karolina Czarna, Judi Wakeley, Phillip J. Cowen & Steven P. Tipper. I want to help you, but i am not sure why: gaze-cuing induces altruistic giving. 2014. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143:2, 763-777. DOI: 10.1037/a0033677.