Sex differences in eye gaze and symbolic cueing of attention

Andrew P. Bayliss, Giuseppe di Pellegrino, Steven P. Tipper

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Observing a face with averted eyes results in a reflexive shift of attention to the gazed-at location. Here we present results that show that this effect is weaker in males than in females (Experiment 1). This result is predicted by the ‘extreme male brain’ theory of autism (Baron-Cohen, 2003), which suggests that males in the normal population should display more autism-like traits than females (e.g., poor joint attention). Indeed, participants′ scores on the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Stott, Bolton, & Goodyear, 2001) negatively correlated with cueing magnitude. Furthermore, exogenous orienting did not differ between the sexes in two peripheral cueing experiments (Experiments 2a and 2b). However, a final experiment showed that using non-predictive arrows instead of eyes as a central cue also revealed a large gender difference. This demonstrates that reduced orienting from central cues in males generalizes beyond gaze cues. These results show that while peripheral cueing is equivalent in the male and female brains, the attention systems of the two sexes treat noninformative symbolic cues very differently.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-650
Number of pages20
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2005


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