Studies have shown that attention tends to shift to locations gazed by others. The gaze-cuing effect (GCE) means that targets presented at periphery are detected faster when the eyes in a central face are gazing at the same direction of the target than when the eyes are gazing at the opposite side. In the present study, we investigated the impact of consciously or unconsciously presented emotional faces on the gaze-cuing effect.
A positive, neutral, or negative cue face with its eyes gazing at left or right side was presented supraliminally or subliminally in the center of the screen, followed by a target letter presented at the gazed (cued) location or the opposite (un-cued) location. Participants were asked to make localization responses to the target as accurately and quickly as possible.
Results showed that, the GCE, in terms of RTs in the un-cued condition minus RTs in the cued condition, was significant and was not affected by facial expression when the face was presented supraliminally. However, when the cue was presented subliminally, the GCE effect was also significant and was modulated by the emotionality of the central face. Specifically, in the un-cued condition, RTs were significantly longer in the positive and negative conditions than that in the neutral condition. In other words, GCE was larger in the positive and negative conditions than in the neutral condition.
These results indicated that GCE can be modulated by faces with biological importance. The emotional information conveyed through supraliminally presented face might be suppressed by the top-down control setting, whereas the subliminally presented gazing cue was processed automatically and was escaped from top-down suppression.