Look Me in the Eye in 3D

As we increased the distance between the stereoscopic cameras (IAD), the subjectively assessed perception of mutual gaze decreased.

Effect of IAD on perceived mutual gaze.

Two-dimensional portraits generate a strong perception of eye contact. I remember the posters of rock stars in my friend’s room when I was a kid. When I walked around in the room, Alice Cooper’s gaze appeared to follow me. The phenomenon, known as the Mona Lisa effect, is well studied and documented. However, as we discovered in a recent study, the Mona Lisa effect is not the only phenomenon that explains the magic-like appeal of two-dimensional portraits of rock stars and enigmatically smiling ladies.
As a model poses for the photographer, they often look directly in the lens of the camera; eye contact (mutual gaze) creates captivating photographs. When an observer then looks at the resulting two-dimensional image, both eyes of the observer receive a direct gaze. This condition is in contrast with a natural setting where people look at either the left or the right eye of each other at a time. Thus, the two-dimensional photograph or painting provides a perception of eye contact that is stronger than possible in a three-dimensional real-life setting.
The implications of the results are manifold; two-dimensional portraits are widely used in emotion and gaze research. However, our results indicate that using two-dimensional portraits reduces the ecological validity of the results, i.e., the results may not apply in real-life situations. The results were published in the open-access journal Journal of Vision.

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