Gaze detection and gaze cuing in Alzheimer's disease

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Abstract

People with Alzheimer's disease (AD) show problems with social processing in tasks which require the understanding of others' mental states. However traditional social processing tasks are cognitively complex, which may influence the effects of AD. Less is known about how AD influences more basic aspects of social perception, such as the ability to decode eye gaze direction or follow the gaze of another. The current research assessed whether those with AD showed difficulty in both explicitly decoding subtle manipulations of gaze direction (Study 1), and reflexively following another's eye gaze (Study 2). Those with AD were more impaired than a matched control group when making explicit discrimination distinctions between direct and averted gaze. In contrast people with Alzheimer's disease performed comparably to a control group when following gaze. This pattern indicates that more automatic aspects of social perception such as gaze following are unaffected by AD. In contrast, more controlled processes such as deciding whether someone is looking towards you are impaired in AD. This has implications for socially engaging with other people and interpreting their focus of interest.

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