What are you looking at? Impaired 'social attention' following frontal-lobe damage

Shaun P. Vecera, Matthew Rizzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Humans are able to predict the behavior of others. Several studies have investigated this capability by determining if social cues, such as eye gaze direction, can influence the allocation of visual attention. When a viewer sees a face looking to the left, the viewer's attention is allocated in the gazed-at direction. These 'social attention' studies have asked if this allocation of attention is automatic or under voluntary control. In this paper, we show that a patient with frontal-lobe damage is impaired at allocating attention to peripheral locations voluntarily, although attention can be allocated there automatically. The patient, EVR, can use peripheral cues to selectively process one location over another but cannot use symbolic cues (words) to allocate attention. EVR is also impaired in using eye gaze cues to allocate attention, suggesting that 'social attention' may involve frontal-lobe processes that control voluntary, not automatic, shifts of visuospatial attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1657-1665
Number of pages9
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Eye gaze direction
  • Frontal lobes
  • Social attention
  • Theory-of-mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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