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13-09-2020 | Original Article

Visual exploration of emotional body language: a behavioural and eye-tracking study

Psychological Research
M. Calbi, N. Langiulli, F. Siri, M. A. Umiltà, V. Gallese
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-020-01416-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Bodily postures are essential to correctly comprehend others’ emotions and intentions. Nonetheless, very few studies focused on the pattern of eye movements implicated in the recognition of emotional body language (EBL), demonstrating significant differences in relation to different emotions. A yet unanswered question regards the presence of the “left-gaze bias” (i.e. the tendency to look first, to make more fixations and to spend more looking time on the left side of centrally presented stimuli) while scanning bodies. Hence, the present study aims at exploring both the presence of a left-gaze bias and the modulation of EBL visual exploration mechanisms, by investigating the fixation patterns (number of fixations and latency of the first fixation) of participants while judging the emotional intensity of static bodily postures (Angry, Happy and Neutral, without head). While results on the latency of first fixations demonstrate for the first time the presence of the left-gaze bias while scanning bodies, suggesting that it could be related to the stronger expressiveness of the left hand (from the observer’s point of view), results on fixations’ number only partially fulfil our hypothesis. Moreover, an opposite viewing pattern between Angry and Happy bodily postures is showed. In sum, the present results, by integrating the spatial and temporal dimension of gaze exploration patterns, shed new light on EBL visual exploration mechanisms.

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