I just love the attention: implicit preference for direct eye contact.
Seven studies used the Implicit Association Test (Nosek, Greenwald & Banaji, 2005) to measure preference for gaze direction. For faces with neutral expressions, people clearly preferred eyes looking towards them compared to eyes gazing to the right or left (Experiment 1). This preference remained for faces shown turned to the side (Experiment 2) and upside-down (Experiment 3). Even angry faces were preferred with direct compared to averted gaze (Experiments 4 and 5). Furthermore, preference for eye contact did not correlate to performance on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Hill, Raste & Plumb, 2001a) or the Autism Quotient (AQ, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin & Clubley, 2001b); note performance on the RMET and the AQ was only weakly correlated although both are claimed to measure social cognition. When the faces were replaced by coloured shapes (Experiment 6) or arrows (Experiment 7) people showed a weaker preference for the category label "looking at you" versus "looking to the side". Overall, people revealed a robust preference for direct rather than averted gaze which generalised across face pose and expression. Together with a weaker preference for arrows pointing towards them, this is consistent with people having an implicit preference for self-directed attention.
Visual Cognition (2015), 23, 450-488.