Our evaluations of objects and social situations are context-dependent. One contextual variable is the presence of others and our perception of another's evaluation or gaze. To elucidate the effects of this variable, the AED (Attention and emotion in decision making) project conducted an extensive study of how evaluations are affected when people observe others directing attention towards or away from an object. Specifically, the project explored this relationship and the connection between seeing another observe, or direct attention towards, a neutral object and more positive evaluations. The project explored this phenomenon through both an evaluative conditioning and communication account. The evaluative conditioning account postulates that merely observing attention to an object provides an unconditioned stimulus of positive valence that results in a more positive evaluation. The communication account proposes that the gaze's effect on evaluation involves more psychological processes. These processes refer to including the intentions and mind of the gazing person as perceived by the observer, affecting the extent of the evaluation's increased positivity. Furthermore, it was discovered that observing another's attention to an object increased evaluation positivity for both neutral and threatening stimuli. This was significant as such findings suggest that observing another's gaze doesn't just intensify an object's original valence, but increases positivity either way. Two new boundary conditions were also identified that could alter the effect of gaze observation on evaluations. The first is discord between the observer's and the gazer's reactions. The second is the observer's group membership. Both align more with the communication account. The project provided valuable insight into how observing others' gazes and the inferences we draw from them can play an important role in social behaviour and support. Not only did the project add to the depth of research and collaboration within the academic psychology field, it also increased knowledge about psychology as a scientific field.
Observing others, judgement, positive evaluation, attention, emotion, decision making