Birmingham, E., Bischof, W. F. and Kingstone, A. (2009). Saliency does not account for fixations to eyes within social scenes. Vision Research, 49, 2992-3000.

We assessed the role of saliency in driving observers to fixate the eyes in social scenes. Saliency maps (Itti & Koch, 2000) were computed for the scenes from three previous studies. Saliency provided a poor account of the data. The saliency values for the first-fixated locations were extremely low and no greater than what would be expected by chance. In addition, the saliency values for the eye regions were low. Furthermore, whereas saliency was no better at predicting early saccades than late saccades, the average latency to fixate social areas of the scene (e.g., the eyes) was very fast (within 200 msec). Thus, visual saliency does not account for observers' bias to select the eyes within complex social scenes, nor does it account for fixation behavior in general. Instead, it appears that observers' fixations are driven largely by their default interest in social information.

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