Neural bases of eye and gaze processing: The core of social cognition

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Eyes and gaze are very important stimuli for human social interactions. Recent studies suggest that impairments in recognizing face identity, facial emotions or in inferring attention and intentions of others could be linked to difficulties in extracting the relevant information from the eye region including gaze direction. In this review, we address the central role of eyes and gaze in social cognition. We start with behavioral data demonstrating the importance of the eye region and the impact of gaze on the most significant aspects of face processing. We review neuropsychological cases and data from various imaging techniques such as fMRI/PET and ERP/MEG, in an attempt to best describe the spatio-temporal networks underlying these processes. The existence of a neuronal eye detector mechanism is discussed as well as the links between eye gaze and social cognition impairments in autism. We suggest impairments in processing eyes and gaze may represent a core deficiency in several other brain pathologies and may be central to abnormal social cognition.

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