Detecting subtle indicators of trustworthiness is highly adaptive for moving effectively amongst social partners. One powerful signal is gaze direction, which individuals can use to inform (or deceive) by looking toward (or away from) important objects or events in the environment. Here, across 5 experiments, we investigate whether implicit learning about gaze cues can influence subsequent economic transactions; we also examine some of the underlying mechanisms. In the 1st experiment, we demonstrate that people invest more money with individuals whose gaze information has previously been helpful, possibly reflecting enhanced trust appraisals. However, in 2 further experiments, we show that other mechanisms driving this behavior include obligations to fairness or (painful) altruism, since people also make more generous offers and allocations of money to individuals with reliable gaze cues in adapted 1-shot ultimatum games and 1-shot dictator games. In 2 final experiments, we show that the introduction of perceptual noise while following gaze can disrupt these effects, but only when the social partners are unfamiliar. Nonconscious detection of reliable gaze cues can prompt altruism toward others, probably reflecting the interplay of systems that encode identity and control gaze-evoked attention, integrating the reinforcement value of gaze cues.
- joint attention