In the blink of an eye: reading mental states from briefly presented eye regions

Gunnar Schmidtmann*, Andrew J. Logan, Claus-Christian Carbon, Joshua T. Loong, Ian Gold

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
70 Downloads (Pure)


Faces provide not only cues to an individual’s identity, age, gender, and ethnicity but also insight into their mental states. The aim was to investigate the temporal aspects of processing of facial expressions of complex mental states for very short presentation times ranging from 12.5 to 100ms in a four-alternative forced choice paradigm based on Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. Results show that participants are able to recognise very subtle differences between facial expressions; performance is better than chance, even for the shortest presentation time. Importantly, we show for the first time that observers can recognise these expressions based on information contained in the eye region only. These results support the hypothesis that the eye region plays a particularly important role in social interactions and that the expressions in the eyes are a rich source of information about other peoples’ mental states. When asked to what extent the
observers guessed during the task, they significantly underestimated their ability to make correct decisions, yet perform better than chance, even for very brief presentation times. These results are particularly relevant in the light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and the associated wearing of face coverings.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020


  • face perception
  • theory of mind
  • eyes
  • facial expressions
  • emotional states
  • temporal processing


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