About this Research Topic
The ability of individuals to understand other people as beings who, like themselves, have intentional and mental states is fundamental to adapt to, and navigate in our social world. To this end, our perceptual and neural systems have evolved to extract useful information from faces and moving bodies of other humans to allow reciprocal social interactions and communication.
A central source of socially meaningful cues is the face and the eye gaze, which can be visually analyzed to understand a person's emotions, focus of attention, intentions, beliefs, and desires. Moreover, facial cues convey information about that person's social status, approachability, age, gender. All of this body of information, although complex, is easily detected and used by people to go beyond a person's facial appearance to make inferences about personal dispositions and personality traits, such as trustworthiness and likeability.
However, not only facial cues provide crucial information regarding a person's internal state which can facilitate or prevent social interaction. In every-day situations, other sources of visual input (such as the communicator’s body language or ‘‘bodily kinematics’’) are equally important, especially when facial signals are unavailable to the observer. For example, it has been demonstrated that biological motion (i.e., a point light motion display) is sufficient for the perception of emotions, gender and internal states. Thus, if on the one hand faces and eye gaze are universally recognized as the most important key element for understanding others, on the other hand a growing body of evidence shows that body motion cues are also a core component of person perception and concur to make person first impression.
Research is beginning to uncover the manner in which facial and body cues are processed, but very little is known about how they interact with each other, and with social, ecological and contextual factors (such as for example social identification and group membership) to form a unified representation that can guide our perceptions and responses to other people. There is not a full theoretical account of how we extract, integrate, and interpret the various social signals from a visual image. Nevetheless, researchers are now beginning to investigate the cognitive, neural and social aspects of face, gaze, and body cues processing together. The questions they ask include: How does the brain process and integrate social information from different inputs? How may body motion cues contribute to social understanding in typical and atypical development? How do personality inferences derived from perceptual appearance or previous social interactions bias cognitive processes involved in the understanding of others (e.g., joint and shared attention)?
The aim of this Research Topic is to offer an interdisciplinary forum for researchers interested in the interplay of face, eye gaze, and body perception in the understanding of others, with an emphasis on behavioural and neural processing. We welcome original research and review papers from cognitive, neuroscience and social psychology perspectives, allowing building an up-to-date picture of advances in this fascinating field.
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