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A tilt of the head facilitates social engagement: New findings of potential value for people with autism -- ScienceDaily

Scientists have known for decades that when we look at a face, we tend to focus on the left side of the face we're viewing, from the viewer's perspective. Called the "left-gaze bias," this phenomenon is thought to be rooted in the brain, the right hemisphere of which dominates the face-processing task. Researchers also know that we have a terrible time "reading" a face that's upside down. It's as if our neural circuits become scrambled, and we are challenged to grasp the most basic information. Much less is known about the middle ground, how we take in faces that are rotated or slightly tiltedĀ¬. "We take in faces holistically, all at once -- not feature by feature," said Davidenko. "But no one had studied where we look on rotated faces." Davidenko used eye-tracking technology to get the answers, and what he found surprised him: The left-gaze bias completely vanished and an "upper eye bias" emerged, even with a tilt as minor as 11 degrees off center. "People tend to look first at whichever eye is higher," he said. "A slight tilt kills the left-gaze bias that has been known for so long. That's what's so interesting. I was surprised how strong it was." Perhaps more importantly for people with autism, Davidenko found that the tilt leads people to look more at the eyes, perhaps because it makes them more approachable and less threatening. "Across species, direct eye contact can be threatening," he said. "When the head is tilted, we look at the upper eye more than either or both eyes when the head is upright. I think this finding could be used therapeutically." Davidenko is eager to explore two aspects of these findings: whether people with autism are more comfortable engaging with images of rotated faces, and whether tilts help facilitate comprehension during conversation. The findings may also be of value for people with amblyopia, or "lazy eye," which can be disconcerting to others. "In conversation, they may want to tilt their head so their dominant eye is up," he said. "That taps into our natural tendency to fix our gaze on that eye." The effect is strongest when the rotation is 45 degrees. The upper-eye bias is much weaker at a 90-degree rotation. "Ninety degrees is too weird," said Davidenko. "People don't know where to look, and it changes their behavior totally." Davidenko's findings appear in the latest edition of the journal Perception, in an article titled "The Upper Eye Bias: Rotated Faces Draw Fixations to the Upper." His coauthors are Hema Kopalle, a graduate student in the Department of Neurosciences at UC San Diego who was an undergraduate researcher on the project, and the late Bruce Bridgeman, professor emeritus of psychology at UCSC.

Why being left-handed matters for mental health treatment -- ScienceDaily

Since the 1970s, hundreds of studies have suggested that each hemisphere of the brain is home to a specific type of emotion. Emotions linked to approaching and engaging with the world -- like happiness, pride and anger -- lives in the left side of the brain, while emotions associated with avoidance -- like disgust and fear -- are housed in the right. But those studies were done almost exclusively on right-handed people. That simple fact has given us a skewed understanding of how emotion works in the brain, according to Daniel Casasanto, associate professor of human development and psychology at Cornell University. That longstanding model is, in fact, reversed in left-handed people, whose emotions like alertness and determination are housed in the right side of their brains, Casasanto suggests in a new study. Even more radical: The location of a person's neural systems for emotion depends on whether they are left-handed, right-handed or somewhere in between, the research shows. The study, "Approach motivation in human cerebral cortex," is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. According to the new theory, called the "sword and shield hypothesis," the way we perform actions with our hands determines how emotions are organized in our brains. Sword fighters of old would wield their swords in their dominant hand to attack the enemy -- an approach action -- and raise their shields with their non-dominant hand to fend off attack -- an avoidance action