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Alexandra Bowers, Sarah Sheldon, Jessilin Quint, Heiko Hecht; Effect of central vision loss on mutual gaze perception. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2013;54(15):2187.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
The ability to perceive mutual gaze (knowing whether somebody else is looking at you) is an important nonverbal visual cue that directs conversations and social interactions. Individuals with central vision loss (CVL) have limited access to such cues, which may cause difficulties in social situations. We evaluated perceived difficulties with gaze perception and examined the relationship with functional abilities quantified using a performance-based measure.
18 persons with CVL (visual acuity 20/60 to 20/250) and 18 age-similar controls completed a battery of vision tests, a short questionnaire rating perceived difficulties with gaze perception, face recognition and social interactions, and a gaze perception task. They adjusted the positions of the eyes of a life-size virtual head on a monitor at a 1-m distance until the eyes appeared either to be looking straight at them or were at the extreme lateral left or right position at which they still appeared to be looking toward them. For each trial (n = 48), the angular deviation of the final position of the virtual eyes from the straight ahead gaze position was computed. The gaze cone width was the difference between the extreme left and right positions.
CVL participants reported moderate difficulty with knowing when somebody was looking at them; moderate difficulty with seeing how other people reacted in social situations; and a variety of coping strategies. Controls reported no difficulties. The median gaze cone widths were not significantly different for the two groups (CVL 11.5°, controls 13.2°; p = 0.9) neither were the mean judgments of the straight ahead gaze direction (CVL 0.1 ± 0.9°, controls 0.2 ± 1.7°; p = 0.82). However, CVL participants had significantly more variability in their judgments (6.9 ± 2.4° and 4.6 ± 1.8°; p < 0.01). Greater judgment variability correlated with higher levels of perceived difficulties (r = 0.78, p < 0.001) but not with visual acuity (r = 0.44, p = 0.07) or contrast sensitivity (r = -0.37, p = 0.13).
CVL increased the variability of mutual gaze judgments suggesting that CVL participants had more difficulty with the task than controls; however, the average estimate of gaze direction was similar in the two groups. While traditional vision measures did not predict the extent to which CVL affected the more complex gaze judgment task, perceived difficulties were predictive of increased judgment variability.
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