Eye Gaze Affects Vocal Intonation Mimicry

Abstract

Eye gaze and behavioral mimicry are important foundations of social interaction. Inspired by recent studies on eye-gaze me- diated spontaneous behavioral mimicry of gestures, we studied the effect of eye gaze direction on vocal mimicry. Participants were instructed to repeat digits spoken by a virtual agent with a direct or averted eye gaze. As a measure of imitation, the vocal pitch was recorded and analyzed in order to determine if and to what extent vocal mimicry was modulated by eye gaze. The results showed that eye gaze direction affects vocal mimicry as measured by pitch slope. That is, when partici- pants were exposed to an agent that gazed at them directly, they accommodated their intonation more to that of the agent, than when they were exposed to an agent that averted its gaze. These results suggest that in social interaction with a virtual agent, humans mimic vocal intonation and that the degree of mimicry depends on the eye-gaze direction of the agent. The implications for studies of social interaction are discussed.


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