top of page

Revealing the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the perception of social interactions


POINTS was a six-year (2017-2023) research project funded by a Starting Grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC-StG-715824).  



“Social perception” has emerged as an umbrella term to describe research addressing the visual perception of others. To date, this discipline has focused on the perception of individuals; for example, researchers have examined the visual processing of faces and facial expressions, body shapes and postures, actions and kinematics. The resulting body of research suggests that social stimuli are detected by specialised mechanisms, recruit dedicated perceptual models, and are processed by specialised neural substrates. However, while social perception research has made considerable progress elucidating the visual perception of individuals, virtually nothing is known about the visual perception of social interactions; how we detect, encode, and interpret visual displays of social interactions viewed from third-person perspectives. Given the adaptive value of accurate interaction interpretation, this paucity of knowledge represents a remarkable gap in our understanding of social perception. POINTS will develop a battery of original behavioural and neuroimaging paradigms to reveal the neurocognitive mechanisms that mediate this essential form of social perception. The overarching objective of POINTS will be achieved by addressing five research questions: 1) Do observers exhibit evidence of interaction detection mechanisms? 2) How do we process fleeting visual displays of social interactions? 3) How do we represent dynamic interaction change? 4) Do specialised neural substrates mediate interaction perception? 5) Do some observers exhibit impaired interaction perception? The POINTS project represents a significant step-change in social perception research. Understanding the mechanisms of interaction perception will provide new insights into the organisation of the human visual system, and will inform attempts to remediate socio-cognitive and perceptual deficits in neurodevelopmental populations, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Key outputs:


Over, H., Egglestone, A., & Cook, R. (2020). Ritual and the origins of first impressions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 375(1805), e20190435.


Vestner, T., Gray, K.L.H., & Cook, R. (2020). Why are social interactions found quickly in visual search tasks? Cognition, 200, e104270.


Vestner, T., Gray, K.L.H., & Cook, R. (2021). Visual search for facing and non-facing people: the effect of actor inversion. Cognition, 208, e104550.


Bunce, C., Gray, K.L.H., & Cook, R. (2021). The perception of interpersonal distance is distorted by the Müller-Lyer illusion. Scientific Reports, 11, e494.


Vestner, T., Over, H., Gray, K.L.H., & Cook, R. (2021). Objects that direct visuospatial attention produce the search advantage for facing dyads. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 151, 161-171


Vestner, T., Over, H., Gray, K.L.H., Tipper, S., & Cook, R. (2021). Searching for people: non-facing distractor pairs hinder the visual search of social scenes more than facing distractor pairs. Cognition, 214, e104737.


Eggleston, A., Geangu, E., Tipper, S., Cook, R., & Over, H. (2021). Young children learn first impressions of faces through social referencing. Scientific Reports, 11, e14744.


Flavell, J.C., Over, H., Vestner, T., Cook, R., Tipper, S. (2022). Rapid detection of social interactions is the result of domain general attentional processes. PLoS One, 17(1), e0258832.


Vestner, T., Flavell, J.C., Cook, R., & Tipper, S. (2022). Remembered Together: Social interaction facilitates retrieval while reducing individuation of features within bound representations. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 75(9), 1593-1602.


Barzy, M., Morgan, R., Cook, R., & Gray, K.L.H. (2023). Are social interaction preferentially attended in real-world scenes? Evidence from change blindness. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, e17470218231161044.  


Tsantani, M., Yon, D., & Cook, R. (under review). Neural representations of observed interpersonal synchrony in the social perception network.


Bunce, C., Press, C., Gray, K.L.H., & Cook, R. (under review). Sensitivity to changes in interpersonal distance: the effects of dyad arrangement and orientation


Bunce, C., Gehdu, B., Press, C., Gray, K.L.H., & Cook, R. (under review). Autistic adults exhibit typical sensitivity to changes in interpersonal distance.


Bunce, C. Tsantani, M., Press, C., Gray, K.L.H., & Cook, R. (under review). Typical sensitivity to changes in interpersonal distance in developmental prosopagnosia.

bottom of page