How does gaze to faces support face-to-face interaction? A review and perspective

Roy S. Hessels*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Gaze—where one looks, how long, and when—plays an essential part in human social behavior. While many aspects of social gaze have been reviewed, there is no comprehensive review or theoretical framework that describes how gaze to faces supports face-to-face interaction. In this review, I address the following questions: (1) When does gaze need to be allocated to a particular region of a face in order to provide the relevant information for successful interaction; (2) How do humans look at other people, and faces in particular, regardless of whether gaze needs to be directed at a particular region to acquire the relevant visual information; (3) How does gaze support the regulation of interaction? The work reviewed spans psychophysical research, observational research, and eye-tracking research in both lab-based and interactive contexts. Based on the literature overview, I sketch a framework for future research based on dynamic systems theory. The framework holds that gaze should be investigated in relation to sub-states of the interaction, encompassing sub-states of the interactors, the content of the interaction as well as the interactive context. The relevant sub-states for understanding gaze in interaction vary over different timescales from microgenesis to ontogenesis and phylogenesis. The framework has important implications for vision science, psychopathology, developmental science, and social robotics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)856-881
Number of pages26
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • Dynamic system theory
  • Faces
  • Facial features
  • Gaze
  • Social interaction


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