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Perceiving Crowd Attention


In nearly every interpersonal encounter, people readily gather socio-visual cues to guide their behavior. Intriguingly, social information is most effective in directing behavior when it is perceived in crowds. For example, the shared gaze of a crowd is more likely to direct attention than is a single person's gaze. Are people equipped with mechanisms to perceive a crowd's gaze as an ensemble? Here, we provide the first evidence that the visual system extracts a summary representation of a crowd's attention; observers rapidly pooled information from multiple crowd members to perceive the direction of a group's collective gaze. This pooling occurred in high-level stages of visual processing, with gaze perceived as a global-level combination of information from head and pupil rotation. These findings reveal an important and efficient mechanism for assessing crowd gaze, which could underlie the ability to perceive group intentions, orchestrate joint attention, and guide behavior.

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