The Eyes Have It: Eyes and hands react more quickly to biological stimuli than to objects

The Eyes Have It: Eyes and hands react more quickly to biological stimuli than to objects

To get someone’s attention, is it quicker to use biological actions, such as gestures or eye movements, or non-biological objects, such as arrows and moving dots? In a new PLOS ONE study, researchers attempted not only to answer this question, but also to pin down which types of responses to stimuli are associated with faster reaction speeds.

The study authors investigated participants’ responses to moving biological and non-biological stimuli on an LCD screen. Participants were instructed to react to stimuli by either pressing a button or shifting their gaze in the same or opposite direction as the stimulus. The researchers compared reaction speeds for biological stimuli, such as eyes looking in a particular direction, and non-biological stimuli, such as moving eye-sized blobs, and found that participants reacted faster to the biological stimuli.

Participants were able to respond more quickly by shifting their gaze than by moving their hands; eye movements appear to be a more instinctive way of refocusing attention. They reacted fastest when asked to mirror a biological stimulus, for example by looking in the same direction as the pair of eyes on the screen, indicating that we may find it easier to match than to oppose such stimuli.

Even newborn babies are known to be able to shift their gaze to track faces and moving objects. But this research suggests that we may be especially attuned to using our hands, and most of all our eyes, to focus on the biological stimuli that have special importance to social beings such as ourselves.

Research Article: Geiger A, Niessen E, Bente G, Vogeley K (2017) Eyes versus hands: How perceived stimuli influence motor actions. PLoS ONE 12(7): e0180780.

Image Credit: Geiger et al., 2017


Beth works at PLOS as Journal Media Manager. She read Natural Sciences, specializing in Pathology, at the University of Cambridge before joining PLOS in 2013. She feels fortunate to be able to read and write about the exciting new research published by PLOS.

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