From gaze perception to social cognition: The shared-attention system

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When two people look at the same object in the environment and are aware of each other’s attentional state, they find themselves in a shared-attention episode. This can occur through intentional or incidental signaling and, in either case, causes an exchange of information between the two parties about the environment and each other’s mental states. In this article, we give an overview of what is known about the building blocks of shared attention (gaze perception and joint attention) and focus on bringing to bear new findings on the initiation of shared attention that complement knowledge about gaze following and incorporate new insights from research into the sense of agency. We also present a neurocognitive model, incorporating first-, second-, and third-order social cognitive processes (the shared-attention system, or SAS), building on previous models and approaches. The SAS model aims to encompass perceptual, cognitive, and affective processes that contribute to and follow on from the establishment of shared attention. These processes include fundamental components of social cognition such as reward, affective evaluation, agency, empathy, and theory of mind.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)553-576
Number of pages24
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number3
Early online date10 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • gaze leading
  • joint attention
  • shared attention
  • social cognition

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