The goal of the present study was to examine whether lonely individuals differ from nonlonely individuals in their overt visual attention to social cues. Previous studies showed that loneliness was related to biased post-attentive processing of social cues (e.g., negative interpretation bias), but research on whether lonely and nonlonely individuals also show differences in an earlier information processing stage (gazing behavior) is very limited. A sample of 25 lonely and 25 nonlonely students took part in an eye-tracking study consisting of four tasks. We measured gazing (duration, number of fixations and first fixation) at the eyes, nose and mouth region of faces expressing emotions (Task 1), at emotion quadrants (anger, fear, happiness and neutral expression) (Task 2), at quadrants with positive and negative social and nonsocial images (Task 3), and at the facial area of actors in video clips with positive and negative content (Task 4). In general, participants tended to gaze most often and longest at areas that conveyed most social information, such as the eye region of the face (T1), and social images (T3). Participants gazed most often and longest at happy faces (T2) in still images, and more often and longer at the facial area in negative than in positive video clips (T4). No differences occurred between lonely and nonlonely participants in their gazing times and frequencies, nor at first fixations at social cues in the four different tasks. Based on this study, we found no evidence that overt visual attention to social cues differs between lonely and nonlonely individuals. This implies that biases in social information processing of lonely individuals may be limited to other phases of social information processing. Alternatively, biased overt attention to social cues may only occur under specific conditions, for specific stimuli or for specific lonely individuals.
- EMOTIONAL INFORMATION
- ATTENTIONAL BIAS