An Eye for the I: Preferential Attention to the Eyes of Ingroup Members

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Abstract

Human faces, and more specifically the eyes, play a crucial role in social and nonverbal communication because they signal valuable information about others. It is therefore surprising that few studies have investigated the impact of intergroup contexts and motivations on attention to the eyes of ingroup and outgroup members. Four experiments investigated differences in eye gaze to racial and novel ingroups using eye tracker technology. Whereas Studies 1 and 3 demonstrated that White participants attended more to the eyes of White compared to Black targets, Study 2 showed a similar pattern of attention to the eyes of novel ingroup and outgroup faces. Studies 3 and 4 also provided new evidence that eye gaze is flexible and can be meaningfully influenced by current motivations. Specifically, instructions to individuate specific social categories increased attention to the eyes of target group members. Furthermore, the latter experiments demonstrated that preferential attention to the eyes of ingroup members predicted important intergroup biases such as recognition of ingroup over outgroup faces (i.e., the own-race bias; Study 3) and willingness to interact with outgroup members (Study 4). The implication of these findings for general theorizing on face perception, individuation processes, and intergroup relations are discussed.

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