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02-12-2021 | Original Article Open Access

When eyes beat lips: speaker gaze affects audiovisual integration in the McGurk illusion

Psychological Research
Basil Wahn, Laura Schmitz, Alan Kingstone, Anne Böckler-Raettig
Belangrijke opmerkingen
Basil Wahn and Laura Schmitz shared first authorship.

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Eye contact is a dynamic social signal that captures attention and plays a critical role in human communication. In particular, direct gaze often accompanies communicative acts in an ostensive function: a speaker directs her gaze towards the addressee to highlight the fact that this message is being intentionally communicated to her. The addressee, in turn, integrates the speaker’s auditory and visual speech signals (i.e., her vocal sounds and lip movements) into a unitary percept. It is an open question whether the speaker’s gaze affects how the addressee integrates the speaker’s multisensory speech signals. We investigated this question using the classic McGurk illusion, an illusory percept created by presenting mismatching auditory (vocal sounds) and visual information (speaker’s lip movements). Specifically, we manipulated whether the speaker (a) moved his eyelids up/down (i.e., open/closed his eyes) prior to speaking or did not show any eye motion, and (b) spoke with open or closed eyes. When the speaker’s eyes moved (i.e., opened or closed) before an utterance, and when the speaker spoke with closed eyes, the McGurk illusion was weakened (i.e., addressees reported significantly fewer illusory percepts). In line with previous research, this suggests that motion (opening or closing), as well as the closed state of the speaker’s eyes, captured addressees’ attention, thereby reducing the influence of the speaker’s lip movements on the addressees’ audiovisual integration process. Our findings reaffirm the power of speaker gaze to guide attention, showing that its dynamics can modulate low-level processes such as the integration of multisensory speech signals.

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