Increased overt attention to objects in early deaf adults: An eye-tracking study of complex naturalistic scenes

Silvia Zeni, Irene Laudanna, Francesca Baruffaldi, Benedetta Heimler, David Melcher, Francesco Pavani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study of selective attention in people with profound deafness has repeatedly documented enhanced attention to the peripheral regions of the visual field compared to hearing controls. This finding emerged from covert attention studies (i.e., without eye-movements) involving extremely simplified visual scenes and comprising few visual items. In this study, we aimed to test whether this key finding extends also to overt attention, using a more ecologically valid experimental context in which complex naturalistic images were presented for 3 s. In Experiment 1 (N = 35), all images contained a single central object superimposed on a congruent naturalistic background (e.g., a tiger in the woods). At the end of the visual exploration phase, an incidental memory task probed the participants' recollection of the seen central objects and image backgrounds. Results showed that hearing controls explored and remembered the image backgrounds more than deaf participants, who lingered on the central object to a greater extent. In Experiment 2 we aimed to disentangle if this behaviour of deaf participants reflected a bias in overt space-based attention towards the centre of the image, or instead, enhanced object-centred attention. We tested new participants (N = 42) in the visual exploration task adding images with lateralized objects, as well as images with multiple object or images without any object. Results confirmed increased exploration of objects in deaf participants. Taken together our novel findings show limitations of the well-known peripheral attention bias of deaf people and suggest that visual object-centred attention may also change after prolonged auditory deprivation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104061
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Deafness
  • Eye movements
  • Object-based attention
  • Plasticity
  • Scene perception
  • Space-based attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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