Inferential eye movement control while following dynamic gaze

  1. Nicole Xiao Han  Is a corresponding author
  2. Miguel Patricio Eckstein
  1. University of California, Santa Barbara, United States


Attending to other people's gaze is evolutionary important to make inferences about intentions and actions. Gaze influences covert attention and triggers eye movements. However, we know little about how the brain controls the fine-grain dynamics of eye movements during gaze following. Observers followed people's gaze shifts in videos during search and we related the observer eye movement dynamics to the time course of gazer head movements extracted by a deep neural network. We show that the observers' brains use information in the visual periphery to execute predictive saccades that anticipate the information in the gazer's head direction by 190-350 ms. The brain simultaneously monitors moment-to-moment changes in the gazer's head velocity to dynamically alter eye movements and re-fixate the gazer (reverse saccades) when the head accelerates before the initiation of the first forward gaze-following saccade. Using saccade-contingent manipulations of the videos, we experimentally show that the reverse saccades are planned concurrently with the first forward gaze-following saccade and have a functional role in reducing subsequent errors fixating on the gaze goal. Together, our findings characterize the inferential and functional nature of social attention's fine-grain eye movement dynamics.

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All data generated or analyzed during this study are deposited at

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Article and author information

Author details

  1. Nicole Xiao Han

    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barabra, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-2860-2743
  2. Miguel Patricio Eckstein

    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barabra, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


Army Research Office (W911NF-19-D-0001)

  • Miguel Patricio Eckstein

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Human subjects: The experiment protocol was approved by the University of California Internal Review Board with protocol number 12-22-0667. All participants signed consent forms to participate in the experiment and to include their images in resulting publications.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Miriam Spering, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Version history

  1. Received: September 2, 2022
  2. Preprint posted: September 27, 2022 (view preprint)
  3. Accepted: July 31, 2023
  4. Accepted Manuscript published: August 24, 2023 (version 1)
  5. Version of Record published: September 1, 2023 (version 2)


© 2023, Han & Eckstein

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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  1. Nicole Xiao Han
  2. Miguel Patricio Eckstein
Inferential eye movement control while following dynamic gaze
eLife 12:e83187.

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