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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00226

The “Social Gaze Space”: A Taxonomy for Gaze-based Communication in Triadic Interactions

  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Universität zu Köln, Germany
  • 2JARA-BRAIN, Jülich-Aachen Research Alliance, Germany
  • 3Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics, and Psychotherapy,, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, Germany
  • 4Derpartment of Communication, Michigan State University, United States
  • 5Cognitive Neuroscience (INM-3), Institut für Neurowissenschaften und Medizin (INM), Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany
  • 6Universitätsklinikum köln, Germany

Humans substantially rely on nonverbal cues in their communication and interaction with others. The eyes represent a “simultaneous input-output device”: While we observe others and obtain information about their mental states (including feelings, thoughts, and intentions-to-act), our gaze simultaneously provides information about our own attention and inner experiences. This substantiates its pivotal role for the coordination of communication. The communicative and coordinative capacities – and their phylogenetic and ontogenetic impacts – become fully apparent in triadic interactions constituted in its simplest form by two persons and an object. Technological advances have sparked renewed interest in social gaze and provide new methodological approaches. Here we introduce the ‘Social Gaze Space’ as a new conceptual framework for the systematic study of gaze behavior during social information processing. It covers all possible categorical states, namely ‘partner-oriented’, ‘object-oriented’, ‘introspective’, ‘initiating joint attention’, and ‘responding joint attention’. Different combinations of these states explain several interpersonal phenomena. We argue that this taxonomy distinguishes the most relevant interactional states along their distinctive features, and will showcase the implications for prominent social gaze phenomena. The taxonomy allows to identify research desiderates that have been neglected so far. We argue for a systematic investigation of these phenomena and discuss some related methodological issues.

Keywords: Nonverbal Communication, social gaze, joint attention, triadic interaction, Ecological Validity, Taxonomy, social psychology

Received: 06 Oct 2017; Accepted: 09 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Mario Weick, University of Kent, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Matthias S. Gobel, University College London, United Kingdom
Cade A. McCall, University of York, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2018 Jording, Hartz, Bente, Schulte-Rüther and Vogeley. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mr. Mathis Jording, Universität zu Köln, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Cologne, Germany,