Title: Eye see you: Social attention in the lab, the real world, and across individuals
Abstract: Intuitively, people are often able to navigate social situations with relative ease. However, when one considers the complexity of various social environments and the difficulty in fully predicting potential outcomes, it becomes less clear what may be facilitating this ability. One important mechanism is attention, which acts to filter out irrelevant sensory information and direct one’s goals. I will discuss a program of research that examines this so-called ‘social attention’ within both laboratory and real-world contexts, as well as across different populations. During the talk, I will first present research investigating whether social information is prioritized as compared to non-social information, followed by a collection of studies aimed to determine whether individuals with reduced social functioning, namely those with an autism spectrum disorder or those high in autism traits, show altered attention in general, or specifically for social content. Finally, I will present research in which I measured social attention across contexts within the same individuals to determine whether social attentional processes differ in the lab as compared to real life. While much of the talk will focus on published work, I will also present findings from some of our recent investigations. Taken together, this body of work highlights the role of attention in complex social contexts, and opens up exciting new avenues of research.
Bio: Dana Hayward is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alberta. Prior to joining the department in 2018, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Concordia University in Montréal, Québec, and completed her PhD and MSc in Psychology at McGill University. She is a cognitive neuroscientist with an interest in spatial attention, including how 'affective' stimuli (such as motivation/reward or people/eyes) influence attention.