Scientific Reports (Jul 2023)

Cultural differences in joint attention and engagement in mutual gaze with a robot face

  • Serena Marchesi,
  • Abdulaziz Abubshait,
  • Kyveli Kompatsiari,
  • Yan Wu,
  • Agnieszka Wykowska

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 13, no. 1
pp. 1 – 12


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Abstract Joint attention is a pivotal mechanism underlying human ability to interact with one another. The fundamental nature of joint attention in the context of social cognition has led researchers to develop tasks that address this mechanism and operationalize it in a laboratory setting, in the form of a gaze cueing paradigm. In the present study, we addressed the question of whether engaging in joint attention with a robot face is culture-specific. We adapted a classical gaze-cueing paradigm such that a robot avatar cued participants’ gaze subsequent to either engaging participants in eye contact or not. Our critical question of interest was whether the gaze cueing effect (GCE) is stable across different cultures, especially if cognitive resources to exert top-down control are reduced. To achieve the latter, we introduced a mathematical stress task orthogonally to the gaze cueing protocol. Results showed larger GCE in the Singapore sample, relative to the Italian sample, independent of gaze type (eye contact vs. no eye contact) or amount of experienced stress, which translates to available cognitive resources. Moreover, since after each block, participants rated how engaged they felt with the robot avatar during the task, we observed that Italian participants rated as more engaging the avatar during the eye contact blocks, relative to no eye contact while Singaporean participants did not show any difference in engagement relative to the gaze. We discuss the results in terms of cultural differences in robot-induced joint attention, and engagement in eye contact, as well as the dissociation between implicit and explicit measures related to processing of gaze.