Taking an "intentional stance" on eye-gaze shifts: A functional neuroimaging study of social perception in children

Matthew W. Mosconi, Peter B. Mack, Gregory McCarthy, Kevin A. Pelphrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


During middle childhood, children develop an increasing understanding of intentions and other social information conveyed through dynamic facial cues such as changes in eye-gaze direction. Recent work in our laboratory has focused on using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in adults to map the neural circuitry subserving the visual analysis of others' actions and the intentions underlying these actions. In these studies, the superior temporal sulcus (STS) region has been continually implicated in processing shifts in eye gaze. Further, these studies have indicated that STS activity is modulated by the context within which eye-gaze shifts occur, suggesting that this region is involved in social perception via its role in the analysis of the intentions of observed actions. Still, no studies have investigated the neural circuitry supporting eye-gaze processing in children. We used event-related fMRI to examine brain activity in 7- to 10-year-old healthy children observing an animated virtual actor who shifted her eyes towards either a target object or empty space. Consistent with prior studies in adults, the STS, middle temporal gyrus, and inferior parietal lobule were sensitive to the intentions underlying the stimulus character's eye movements. These findings suggest that the neural circuitry underlying the processing of eye gaze and the detection of intentions conveyed through shifts in eye gaze in children are similar to that found previously in adults. We discuss these findings and potential implications for mapping the neurodevelopment of the social cognition and social perception abnormalities characteristic of autism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-252
Number of pages6
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2005


  • Biological motion
  • Child development
  • Eye gaze
  • Social perception
  • Superior temporal sulcus
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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