Faces/Voices and Attention


Human faces (and voices) are critically important to our daily interactions. However, there is relatively little known about how faces (or voices) influence our attention. Some research suggests that faces can grab our attention more easily than other stimuli, and we investigate this formally here. There is also established research suggesting that the direction in which someone is looking can automatically cue the attention of an observer in the same direction. Here we examine the mechanisms for such phenomena. We examine how attention capture and gaze cueing interact with each other, and also how each may be modulated by different facial variations, including changes in expression and identity. This research provides evidence from multiple research methods that face processing recruit domain-specific attentional resources which may be limited to the processing of one face at a time. Intriguingly, more recent experiments with voices  provided preliminary evidence that task-irrelevant voices, like faces, can also escape perceptual load effects – potentially indicating the existence of domain-specific attentional resources for both faces and voices.

Selected Relevant Publications

Bindemann, M., Burton, A.M., Langton, S.R.H., Schweinberger, S.R., & Doherty, M.J. (2007). The control of attention to faces. Journal of Vision, 7(10): 15, 1-8. [more…]

Burton, A.M., Bindemann, M., Langton, S.R.H., Schweinberger, S.R., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Gaze perception requires focused attention: evidence from an interference task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 35, 108-118.

Hauthal, N., Neumann, M.F., & Schweinberger, S.R. (2012). Attentional spread in deaf and hearing participants – Face and object distractor processing under perceptual load. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, 74(6), 1312-1320.

Jenkins, R., Burton, A.M., & Ellis, A.W. (2002). Long-term effects of covert face recognition. Cognition, 86, B43-B52.

Langton, S.R.H., Law, A.S., Burton, A.M., & Schweinberger, S.R. (2008). Attentional capture of faces. Cognition, 107, 330-342.

Martens, U., Schweinberger, S.R., Kiefer, M., & Burton, A.M. (2006). Masked and unmasked electrophysiological repetition effects of famous faces. Brain Research, 1109, 146-157.

Mohamed, T.N., Neumann, M.F., & Schweinberger, S. R. (2009). Perceptual load manipulation reveals sensitivity of the face-selective N170 to attention. NeuroReport, 20, 782-787.

Mohamed, T.N., Neumann, M.F., & Schweinberger, S. R. (2011). Combined effects of attention and inversion on event-related potentials in human bodies and faces. Cognitive Neuroscience, 2(3-4), 138-146.

Neumann, M.F., Mohamed, T.N., & Schweinberger, S.R. (2011). Face and object encoding under perceptual load: ERP evidence. NeuroImage, 54, 3021-3027.

Neumann, M.F., Schweinberger, S.R., Wiese, H., & Burton, A.M. (2007). ERP correlates of repetition priming for ignored faces. NeuroReport, 18, 1305-1309.

Neumann, M.F., & Schweinberger, S.R. (2008). N250r and N400 ERP correlates of immediate famous face repetition are independent of perceptual load. Brain Research, 1239, 181-190.

Neumann, M. F. & Schweinberger, S. R. (2009). N250r ERP repetition effects from distractor faces when attending to another face under load: Evidence for a face attention resource. Brain Research, 1270, 64-77.

Neumann, M.F., End, A., Luttmann, S., Schweinberger, S.R., & Wiese, H. (2015). The own-age bias in face memory is unrelated to differences in attention – evidence from event-related potentials. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 15, 180-192. doi: 10.3758/s13415-014-0306-7. (Link to PDF)

Zäske, R., Fritz, C., & Schweinberger, S.R. (2013). Spatial inattention abolishes voice adaptation. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, 75(3), 603-613.

Zäske, R., Perlich, M.-C., & Schweinberger, S.R. (2016). To hear or not to hear: Voice processing under visual load. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 78, 1488-1495. (Link to PDF)


The Wellcome Trust (UK)