Changes in alpha activity reveal that social opinion modulates attention allocation during face processing

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Participants' performance differs when conducting a task in the presence of a secondary individual, moreover the opinion the participant has of this individual also plays a role. Using EEG, we investigated how previous interactions with, and evaluations of, an avatar in virtual reality subsequently influenced attentional allocation to the face of that avatar. We focused on changes in the alpha activity as an index of attentional allocation. We found that the onset of an avatar's face whom the participant had developed a rapport with induced greater alpha suppression. This suggests greater attentional resources are allocated to the interacted-with avatars. The evaluative ratings of the avatar induced a U-shaped change in alpha suppression, such that participants paid most attention when the avatar was rated as average. These results suggest that attentional allocation is an important element of how behaviour is altered in the presence of a secondary individual and is modulated by our opinion of that individual.

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