Processing of gaze direction within the N170/M170 time window: A combined EEG/MEG study

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Gaze direction is an important social signal for human beings. Beside the role of gaze in attention orienting, direct gaze (that is, gaze directed toward an observer) is a highly relevant biological stimulus that elicits attention capture and increases face encoding. Brain imaging studies have emphasized the role of the superior temporal sulcus (STS) in the coding of gaze direction and in the integration of gaze and head cues of social attention. The dynamics of the processing and integration of these cues remains, however, unclear. In order to address this question, we used deviated and frontal faces with averted and direct gaze in a combined electro- and magneto- encephalography (EEG–MEG) study. We showed distinct effects of gaze direction on the N170 and M170 responses. There was an interaction between gaze direction and head orientation between 134 and 162 ms in MEG and a main effect of gaze direction between 171 and 186 ms in EEG. These effects involved the posterior and anterior regions of the STS respectively. Both effects also emphasized the sensitivity to direct gaze. These data highlight the central role of the STS in gaze processing.HighlightsWe investigated the spatio-temporal dynamics of gaze perception using combined EEG and MEG.The M170 was sensitive to gaze direction and head orientation.The N170 was sensitive to gaze direction regardless of head orientation.These modulations involved the pSTS and the aSTS respectively.

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