The cost of being watched: Stroop interference increases under concomitant eye contact.


  • Conty Laurence
  • Gimmig David
  • Belletier Clément
  • George Nathalie
  • Huguet Pascal


  • Stroop interference
  • Social perception
  • Visual cognition
  • Eye contact effect
  • Stroop interference

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Current models in social neuroscience advance that eye contact may automatically recruit cognitive resources. Here, we directly tested this hypothesis by evaluating the distracting strength of eye contact on concurrent visual processing in the well-known Stroop's paradigm. As expected, participants showed stronger Stroop interference under concomitant eye contact as compared to closed eyes. Two control experiments allowed ruling out low-level account of this effect as well as non-specific effect of the presence of open eyes. This suggests that refraining from processing eye contact is actually as difficult as refraining from word reading in the Stroop task. Crucially, the eye contact effect was obtained while gaze was not under the direct focus of attention and the participants were faced with another powerful distracter (the incongruent word) in the task at hand. Thus, there is a cost of being watched even in circumstances where the processing of direct gaze is strongly dis-favored. The present results emphasize the crucial status of eye contact in human cognition.

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