Attentional Orienting to Social and Nonsocial Cues in Early Deaf Adults

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In 2 experiments we investigated attentional orienting to nonpredictive social and nonsocial cues in deaf observers. In Experiment 1a, 22 early deaf adults and 23 hearing controls performed a peripheral shape-discrimination task, while uninformative central gaze cues validly and invalidly cued the location of the target. As an adaptation to the lack of audition, we expected deaf adults to show a larger impact of gaze cuing on attentional orienting compared with hearing controls. However, contrary to our predictions, deaf participants did not respond faster to cued compared with uncued targets (gaze-cuing effect; GCE), and this behavior partly correlated with early sign language acquisition. Experiment 1b showed a reliable GCE in 13 hearing native signers, thus excluding a key role of early sign language acquisition in explaining the lack of GCE in the response times of deaf participants. To test whether the resistance to uninformative central cues extends to nonsocial cues, in Experiment 2 nonpredictive arrow cues were presented to 14 deaf and 14 hearing participants. Both groups of participants showed a comparable arrow-cuing effect. Together, our findings suggest that deafness may selectively limit attentional-orienting triggered by central irrelevant gaze cues. Possible implications for plasticity related to deafness are discussed.

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