Do you notice yourself in your selfie?

Published: 21 October 2014 at 13:36

Research shows friends’ faces are more likely to grab our attention than our own

Untitled Page

New research, published today [Wednesday, 22 October] in the journal PLOS One, shows that the faces of our friends are more likely to grab our attention than our own faces.  

The study, by Dr Helen Keyes and Aleksandra Dlugokencka of Anglia Ruskin University, investigated whether faces would cause a distraction while participants were engaged in another task, which was to identify a printed name on a screen.

The psychologists discovered that when faces are presented in our peripheral vision, a friend’s face will automatically grab our attention.  They have labelled this the “social importance” effect.  Although our own face is processed by our brains in a special way, it does not grab our attention. 

Dr Keyes, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin, believes that this is because our brains may be wired to notice friends’ faces when they are presented outside our focus of attention, for example in a crowd.

She said:

“In a real-world setting, it would be sensible to be primed to pick out familiar faces outside the focus of attention.  In fact we are probably born with this instinct, because recognising familiar faces clearly has an evolutionary advantage.
“The results were really interesting because the experiment showed that another self-referential stimulus, our own name, certainly does grab our attention.   However, our name is constantly used to capture our attention from the moment we are born, making us particularly sensitive to its presence.  
“Our own face does not serve this purpose, after all we do not usually see our own face unless looking in a mirror.”

In the first experiment, an image of a distractor face appeared centrally behind a target name.  In the second experiment, distractor faces appeared peripherally.

Across the two studies, the scientists found that participants responded significantly faster to their own name than to other names.  The “self-face” did not cause more distraction than other faces either when presented centrally or peripherally, suggesting that our own face does not selectively grab our attention when either inside or outside the focus of attention.

To read the full report, please visit http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0110792 [link goes live at 7pm BST, 22 October].