Attenuation of visual exploration following stress

Nitzan Guy, Hagar Azulay, Yoni Pertzov, Salomon Israel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When we explore our surroundings, we frequently move our gaze to collect visual information. Studies have extensively examined gaze behavior in response to different visual scenes. Here, we examined how differences in an individual's state may affect visual exploration, for example, following acute stress. In this study, participants were exposed to either a psychosocial stressor—performing a public speaking task in front of a two-person committee—or a control condition absent stress induction. Elicitation of stress responses was validated using cortisol levels and subjective reports. Stress also led to an extended increase in pupil diameter (a proxy of arousal responses), suggesting it may also affect eye movements. Gaze behavior measures were taken prior and following the stress or control tasks. Acute stress attenuated visual exploration, reflected by fewer saccades and a smaller scanned area. Stress did not have a significant effect on either the tendency to look at social features or at salient regions of the images. These findings diverge from theoretical predictions suggesting that acute stress may facilitate social affiliative behaviors (e.g., Tend-and-Befriend theory). Reduced saccades and a smaller scanned area may be a possible mechanism explaining previous reports showing stress-related effects on various cognitive processes (e.g., visual working memory) that rely on visual exploration.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere14330
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • TSST
  • cortisol
  • eye movement
  • scene viewing
  • stress

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology


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