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Gaze and eye-tracking solutions for psychological research

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Eye-tracking technology is a growing field used to detect eye movements and analyze human processing of visual information for interactive and diagnostic applications. Different domains in scientific research such as neuroscience, experimental psychology, computer science and human factors can benefit from eye-tracking methods and techniques to unobtrusively investigate the quantitative evidence underlying visual processes. In order to meet the experimental requirements concerning the variety of application fields, different gaze- and eye-tracking solutions using high-speed cameras are being developed (e.g., eye-tracking glasses, head-mounted or desk-mounted systems), which are also compatible with other analysis devices such as magnetic resonance imaging. This work presents an overview of the main application fields of eye-tracking methodology in psychological research. In particular, two innovative solutions will be shown: (1) the SMI RED-M eye-tracker, a high performance portable remote eye-tracker suitable for different settings, that requires maximum mobility and flexibility; (2) a wearable mobile gaze-tracking device--the SMI eye-tracking glasses--which is suitable for real-world and virtual environment research. For each kind of technology, the functions and different possibilities of application in experimental psychology will be described by focusing on some examples of experimental tasks (i.e., visual search, reading, natural tasks, scene viewing and other information processing) and theoretical approaches (e.g., embodied cognition).
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SHORT REPORT
Gaze and eye-tracking solutions for psychological research
Maria Laura Mele Stefano Federici
Published online: 19 July 2012
ÓMarta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag 2012
Abstract Eye-tracking technology is a growing field used
to detect eye movements and analyze human processing of
visual information for interactive and diagnostic applica-
tions. Different domains in scientific research such as
neuroscience, experimental psychology, computer science
and human factors can benefit from eye-tracking methods
and techniques to unobtrusively investigate the quantitative
evidence underlying visual processes. In order to meet the
experimental requirements concerning the variety of
application fields, different gaze- and eye-tracking solu-
tions using high-speed cameras are being developed (e.g.,
eye-tracking glasses, head-mounted or desk-mounted sys-
tems), which are also compatible with other analysis
devices such as magnetic resonance imaging. This work
presents an overview of the main application fields of eye-
tracking methodology in psychological research. In par-
ticular, two innovative solutions will be shown: (1) the SMI
RED-M eye-tracker, a high performance portable remote
eye-tracker suitable for different settings, that requires
maximum mobility and flexibility; (2) a wearable mobile
gaze-tracking device—the SMI eye-tracking glasses—
which is suitable for real-world and virtual environment
research. For each kind of technology, the functions and
different possibilities of application in experimental
psychology will be described by focusing on some exam-
ples of experimental tasks (i.e., visual search, reading,
natural tasks, scene viewing and other information
processing) and theoretical approaches (e.g., embodied
cognition).
Keywords Portable eye-tracking technology Remote
eye-tracking technology Psychological research
Introduction
Eye-tracking technology is a set of methods and techniques
used to detect and record the activities of eye movements.
The research on eye movements has spread over the years
along with advances in eye-tracking technology and psy-
chological theory on the relationship between eye behavior
and cognitive processes. Since eye movements provide an
insight into problem solving, reasoning, mental imagery
and search strategies (Jacob and Karn 2003), research in
psychology has largely used objective methods to investi-
gate how eye movements are related to cognitive processes
during visual tasks. Over the past 30 years, remarkable
improvements in the development of eye-tracking systems
have permitted practitioners to obtain more accurate eye-
gaze measurements with less intrusive technologies. A
wide variety of eye-tracking techniques are available, and
they can be divided from a system analysis viewpoint
into diagnostic or interactive techniques. ‘‘In its diagnostic
role, the eye-tracker provides objective and quantitative
evidence of the user’s visual and (overt) attentional pro-
cesses’’(Duchowski 2002, p. 455), whereas, in its interac-
tive role, the eye-tracker is used as interactive system
responding to or interacting with the user on the basis of
observed eye movements. Different eye-tracking systems
M. L. Mele (&)
Department of Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome,
Rome, Italy
e-mail: marialaura.mele@uniroma1.it
S. Federici
Department of Human Science and Education,
University of Perugia, Perugia, Italy
123
Cogn Process (2012) 13 (Suppl 1):S261–S265
DOI 10.1007/s10339-012-0499-z
have been developed to record eye movements during
visual interaction or as input devices for communication
and control. This work focuses on the diagnostic role of
eye-tracking systems in different fields of experimental
psychology by highlighting how objective measures
underlying a user’s cognitive processes can be obtained
with different eye-tracking technologies through unobtru-
sive methods.
New eye-tracking solutions: the SMI RED-M
and the SMI eye-tracking glasses
Traditionally, research on eye movements has used eye-
tracking technologies by means of invasive techniques that
required supplemental components such as contact lenses,
chin rests or bite bars (Fig. 1). Due to the physical con-
straints imposed on subjects, these technologies were often
uncomfortable and suitable only for certain experimental
contexts. To overcome these limitations, video-based
techniques have been proposed to detect the eye position
and gaze direction by means of equipment that is increas-
ingly less intrusive and more accurate (Holmqvist et al.
2011). Recently, different gaze and eye-tracking solutions
that use head-mounted, desk-mounted or eyeglass-mounted
high-speed cameras—which are compatible with other
analysis devices such as magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI)—have been developed to meet the wide variety of
application domains. This paper will examine the possi-
bilities offered by two innovative solutions in particular:
(1) the SMI RED-M eye-tracker; and (2) the SMI eye-
tracking glasses; two new camera-based technologies have
recently released by SensoMotoric Instruments (http://
www.smivision.com).
SMI RED-M eye-tracker
The SMI RED-M is an eye-tracking technology developed
by SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) to set up experimental
settings requiring the minimum intrusiveness in the
recording instrumentation. The SMI RED-M is a USB-
powered portable and ultra-light remote contact-free sys-
tem that can be used on a desktop PC monitor, a personal
laptop or a tablet. The technology, along with the SMI
Experiment Suite
TM
360°design and analysis software,
constitutes a comprehensive portable eye-tracking solution.
By means of automatic eye-tracking and head movement
compensation solutions, the system provides reliable bin-
ocular gaze and pupil data in a highly mobile and flexible
way, regardless of the peculiarities of subjects involved in
the experimentation (e.g., eye color, age, glasses, contact
lenses) or environmental conditions (e.g., light of the room,
position of the screen).
Different measurement functions to control and analyze
the subjects’ performances are available: gaze position on
surfaces; pupil size; and 3D head and eye position. The
system provides data extensions that can be easily pro-
cessed by the SMI BeGaze
TM
analysis and visualization
software (Fig. 2) and other statistics software (e.g.,
MATLABÒ, SPSSÒ, Excel
TM
). Moreover, eye-tracking
data can be integrated with individual setups such as the
E-PrimeÒ, Python or MATLABÒsoftware, and custom
applications written in different programming languages
(e.g., C/C ?? or -NET), supporting co-registrations with
other kinds of data (e.g., MRI).
SMI eye-tracking glasses
In 2012, SMI SensoMotoric Instruments proposed a new
fully mobile gaze-tracking device, the SMI Eye-tracking
Glasses, which are a non-invasive and robust system
designed to be used like a common pair of glasses (weight
75 g) in different environmental studies, e.g., driving
research, visual perception research or indoor/outdoor
research. The system is equipped with an HD scene camera
(resolution 1,280 9960 p) and eye glasses that can be
interchanged according to the experimental environment
light (indoor/outdoor use). Thanks to an automatic parallax
compensation mechanism that obviates the need for man-
ual adjustments, the SMI Eye-tracking Glasses provide
reliable binocular eye-tracking data in both real-time and
recorded data observations, and it is easily integrable with
other mobile technologies and sensors such as EEG or
GPS. The system also includes a mobile recording unit and
an optional software package—the BeGazeTM software—
developed to aggregate data by a semi-automated dynamic
Area of Interest (AOI) analysis with no need to use active
markers (Fig. 3).
Fig. 1 A rudimental apparatus for tracking eye movements by means
of the direct contact of a lens with the cornea (Mele and Federici
2012)
S262 Cogn Process (2012) 13 (Suppl 1):S261–S265
123
Fig. 2 Heat map created with
SMI BeGaze
TM
eye-tracking
analysis software (http://www.
smivision.com/egts)
Fig. 3 Key eye-tracking data
on selected areas of interest
(AOIs) of a print ad created with
SMI BeGaze eye-tracking
analysis software
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/
smieyetracking/)
Cogn Process (2012) 13 (Suppl 1):S261–S265 S263
123
Application of eye-tracking technology in psychological
research
Eye movements are the result of the interaction between
cognitive and perceptual processes (Richardson and John-
son 2008), and they can be a powerful way to investigate
psychological processes such as language processing,
image processing, auditory processing, memory, social
cognition and decision-making in an unobtrusive and
accurate way. As follows, different application possibilities
of eye-tracking technologies in experimental psychology
will be described by focusing on examples of experimental
tasks: (1) visual search, (2) reading, (3) natural tasks, (4)
scene viewing and (5) other information processing.
Visual search
The analysis of eye behavior in visual search tasks reveals
objective information on how humans perceive a visual
scene in situations that require visual target detection. Eye-
tracking visual search tasks can be divided according to
the nature of the stimuli used, such as alphanumeric, textual
or text-like stimuli, pictorial stimuli, complex arrays or
objects (Duchowski 2002). In the investigation of human
behavior related to visual search tasks, subjects are tradi-
tionally asked to search for a given target and discriminate
it among several non-targets that differ from the target.
Response times, eye-gaze parameters and accuracy of
responses are relevant measures to be taken into account in
visual search studies. Given the nature of the tasks, remote
eye-tracking technologies combined with design software
are the best solution for gaze-tracking experiments and
visual stimuli presentation. In fact, this kind of technology
(e.g., the SMI RED500 or RED-M products) provides
researchers a flexible and robust system to manage their
experiments and, at the same time, permit them to arrange
a comfortable setting by minimizing the impact of
recording instrumentation on subjects’ performance.
Reading
Since the second half of the 1970 s, psychology has
adopted eye-tracking methodologies to investigate (overt)
visual attention in reading experimental tasks. The first
studies on eye movements in text reading led researchers to
identify the most peculiar eye movement characteristics in
reading, such as the average duration of eye fixations and
saccades and the variables that influence eye movement
performance such as textual, typographical or contextual
features (Rayner 1998). The current remote eye-tracking
systems allow practitioners to accurately operate and reg-
ister eye movements during reading experiments for
descriptive analyses or even to modulate the stimulus
display in real-time according to the subject’s gaze position
in different displays such as tablets, desktop screens, papers
or other supports. For this field of studies, remote eye-
tracking technologies providing high data quality and high-
speed performance are required to accurately measure
saccades and shortest latencies remote contact-free setups
(e.g., SMI RED 500 or iView X
TM
Hi-Speed products).
Natural tasks
The examples of application previously reported are often
set up to be conducted in artificial laboratory settings;
therefore, different studies investigated complex stimuli
such as natural scenery. Numerous are the dynamic situa-
tions that have been observed in the eye-tracking literature
(e.g., driving, sport, imagery tasks, virtual reality and
usability studies), which often involves different kinds of
perceptual feedback such as haptic or acoustic information.
Thanks to recent advancements in portable eye-tracking
technologies (e.g., the head-mounted iView X
TM
HED or
the SMI eye-tracking glasses), today it is easy to collect
eye movements in more natural situations—usually
requiring unconstrained eyes, head and hand movements
(Duchowski 2002)—with full freedom of movement in
indoor and outdoor settings.
Scene viewing
Since the visual information processing mechanisms of
human vision have emerged as a relevant issue in the study
of perception and cognition, the investigation of eye
movements by means of eye-tracking technologies has
revealed a powerful way to understand scene viewing. Due
to the non-intrusiveness and high portability of modern
eye-tracking technologies, the measurement of eye move-
ment patterns, related to visual and cognitive information
processing, can be conducted in a wide variety of experi-
mental contexts and situations. By means of wearable eye-
tracking technologies, researchers can obtain reliable and
unobtrusive on-line measures of eye movements and
parameters to study eye behaviors during complex visual-
cognitive tasks, analyze the way in which subjects acquire
environmental information, and investigate how informa-
tion in visual environments is dynamically processed
(Henderson and Hollingworth 1998).
Information processing in other cognitive tasks
Eye movement studies on information processing involve a
large number of other domains that can be divided
according to the nature of the task (Rayner 1998). Studies
on numerical and arithmetical reading and analysis, prob-
lem solving, multisensory tasks such as auditory language
S264 Cogn Process (2012) 13 (Suppl 1):S261–S265
123
processing, face perception and visual training can benefit
from high performance eye-tracking systems, which are
suitable for a wide range of research areas and are com-
patible with other analysis devices such as functional
magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magnetoencephalog-
raphy (MEG), electroencephalography (EEG), or pupil-
lometry (e.g., the iView X
TM
MRI-LR system).
The application of eye-tracking technology in the study
of embodied cognition
Since cognitive processes are deeply rooted in the body’s
interactions with the world (Wilson 2002), eye-tracking
methodology might be a privileged way to study embodied
cognition. Cognitive sciences agree that cognition is the
result of both cognitive processes and situated environ-
mental contexts (Barsalou 1999; Clark and Chalmers
1998). Some authors recently pointed out that eye move-
ments interacting with environmental spatial stimuli
influence spatial reasoning (Grant and Spivey 2003) and, in
a reciprocal way, act as an embodied mechanism guiding
cognitive processing (Thomas and Lleras 2007). In the
past, many studies have used different kinds of eye-track-
ing solutions to investigate how eye behavior affects
thought and enhances reasoning(Shimojima and Katagiri
2012), and how beliefs and attitudes affect eye movements,
predicting implicit associations (Mele and Federici 2013).
These studies highlight how eye-tracking technologies can
be particularly suitable for experimental paradigms, which
assume theories of grounded cognition (Barsalou 2008,
2010).
Conclusion
Different domains in scientific research such as neurosci-
ence, experimental psychology or human factor science can
benefit from eye-tracking methodology to investigate
visual processes. An overview of the different possibilities
for applying eye-tracking in psychology has been shown,
with a special attention to two recent SMI solutions. In this
paper, we have presented examples of eye-tracking appli-
cation in psychology by showing different experimental
tasks. Moreover, since the study of visual behavior is a
privileged way to understand the relationship between
body and cognition, we focused on the application of eye-
tracking technology in the theories of grounded cognition.
Conflict of interest This supplement was not sponsored by outside
commercial interests. It was funded entirely by ECONA, Via dei
Marsi, 78, 00185 Roma, Italy.
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Chapter
This chapter will provide an overview of the past and current topics in eye movement research, which will be more widely addressed within the proceeding chapters in this book. A greater understanding of eye movements and how eye-tracking technology works, as well as what populations it is used with, will allow its application and adoption within professional settings.
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Objective: To find eye movement characteristics in patients with affective disorders. Method: The demographic and clinical evaluation data of patients with major depressive disorder (MDD), bipolar disorder (BPD), and healthy control (HC) were collected. EyeLink 1000 eye tracker was used to collect eye movement data. Chi-squared test and independent sample t-test were used for demographics and clinical characteristics. The Mann-Whitney U-test was used to compare the eye movement variables among four groups, and the FDR method was used for multiple comparison correction. Pearson correlation analysis was used to analyse the relationship between clinical symptoms and eye movement variables. Results: Patients with affective disorders showed smaller saccade amplitude under free-viewing task, more fixations and saccades, shorter fixation duration, longer saccade duration under fixation stability and smooth pursuit tasks (all, p < 0.05) when compared to HC, but there was no significant difference in all eye movement variables among patients in the three groups. Also, all eye movement variables under the three paradigms had no significant correlation with clinical scale scores. Conclusion: Patients with major depression, bipolar depression and bipolar mania share similar eye movement dysfunction under free-viewing, fixation stability and smooth pursuit tasks.
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This section considers the application of eye movements to user interfaces—both for analyzing interfaces, measuring usability, and gaining insight into human performance—and as an actual control medium within a human-computer dialogue. The two areas have generally been reported separately; but this book seeks to tie them together. For usability analysis, the user’s eye movements while using the system are recorded and later analyzed retrospectively, but the eye movements do not affect the interface in real time. As a direct control medium, the eye movements are obtained and used in real time as an input to the user-computer dialogue. They might be the sole input, typically for disabled users or hands-busy applications, or they might be used as one of several inputs, combining with mouse, keyboard, sensors, or other devices. Interestingly, the principal challenges for both retrospective and real time eye tracking in humancomputer interaction (HCI) turn out to be analogous. For retrospective analysis, the problem is to find appropriate ways to use and interpret the data; it is not nearly as straightforward as it is with more typical task performance, speed, or error data. For real time use, the problem is to find appropriate ways to respond judiciously to eye movement input, and avoid over-responding; it is not nearly as straightforward as responding to well-defined, intentional mouse or keyboard input. We will see in this chapter how these two problems are closely related. These uses of eye tracking in HCI have been highly promising for many years, but progress in making good use of eye movements in HCI has been slow to date. We see promising research work, but we have not yet seen wide use of these approaches in practice or in the marketplace. We will describe the promises of this technology, its limitations, and the obstacles that must still be overcome. Work presented in this book and elsewhere shows that the field is indeed beginning to flourish.
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Holmqvist, K., Nyström, N., Andersson, R., Dewhurst, R., Jarodzka, H., & Van de Weijer, J. (Eds.) (2011). Eye tracking: a comprehensive guide to methods and measures, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
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Vision is a dynamic process in which representations are built up over time from multiple eye fixations. The study of eye movement patterns during scene viewing contributes to an understanding of how information in the visual environment is dynamically acquired and represented. The interaction among vision, cognition, and eye movement control can be seen as a scientifically tractable testing ground for theories of the interaction between input, central, and output systems. The chapter focuses on static scenes. Eye movement behavior during scene viewing is divided into two relatively discrete temporal phases, fixations, or periods of time when the point of regard is relatively still, and saccades, or periods of time when the eyes are rotating at a relatively rapid rate to reorient the point of regard from one spatial position to another. Useful pattern information is acquired during the fixations, with less useful pattern information derived during the saccades due to a combination of visual masking and central suppression. It is vital exactly where the fixation position tends to be centered and how long the position tends to remain centered at a particular location in a scene.
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Social information processing involves embodiment, i.e. thoughts comprise mental simulations of bodily experiences, and, at the same time, cognition directly affects the content of sensory-motor systems. We investigate whether it is possible to observe a top-down effect of implicit association on eye gaze behaviour by means of eye-tracking methods and techniques. We assume that if attitudes, social perception, and emotion are the outcome of embodied processes, then people with different kinds of mental attributes (e.g. racial prejudices) must perform different kinds of eye gaze movements when they explore the visual content of implicit association tasks. The relationship between the eye movements – recorded by the open-source ITU Gaze Tracker eye-tracking system – and implicit associations occurring during an Implicit Association Test (IAT) on hidden ethnic biases of 80 Caucasian participants was investigated in two experiments with the same experimental paradigm. Both total times of fixations and total number of fixations emerged as significant predictors of IAT scores. The analysis carried out on the number of fixations showed that subjects implicitly watch what they believe, i.e. the association according to their psychological attributes. Eye-tracking methodology hence seems to be a promising approach to obtain objective measures to investigate the unintended characteristics underlying behaviour in ecological settings and could be applicable to different research contexts such as studies on stereotypes, implicit attitudes, self-esteem, and self-concept.
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Spatial representations, such as maps, charts, and graphs, convey different levels of information, depending on how their elements are grouped into different units of objects. Therefore, how people set boundaries to graphical objects to be interpreted and how they maintain the object boundaries during the given task are two important problems in understanding the way people utilize spatial representations for problem-solving. Table comprehension process was experimentally investigated in terms of eye gaze control behaviors when people were required to read off information distributed over large-scale objects, e.g., a row or a column, of the given table. Evidence was found that a large-scale object can be bounded by a single attentional shift to it, and that they can be retained as coherent objects for subsequent reference. These findings suggest the existence of a higher-order information processing in the comprehension of a spatial representation, based on rather intricate processes of attention management.
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The aim of the present work is to show a critical review of the international literature on eye-tracking technologies by focusing on those features that characterize them as 'psychotechnologies'. A critical literature review was conducted through the main psychology, engineering, and computer sciences databases by following specific inclusion and exclusion criteria. A total of 46 matches from 1998 to 2010 were selected for content analysis. Results have been divided into four broad thematic areas. We found that, although there is a growing attention to end-users, most of the studies reviewed in this work are far from being considered as adopting holistic human-computer interaction models that include both individual differences and needs of users. User is often considered only as a measurement object of the functioning of the technological system and not as a real alter-ego of the intrasystemic interaction. In order to fully benefit from the communicative functions of gaze, the research on eye-tracking must emphasize user experience. Eye-tracking systems would become an effective assistive technology for integration, adaptation and neutralization of the environmental barrier only when a holistic model can be applied for both design processes and assessment of the functional components of the interaction.
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Where are the borders of mind and where does the rest of the world begin? There are two standard answers possible: Some philosophers argue that these borders are defined by our scull and skin. Everything outside the body is also outside the mind. The others argue that the meanings of our words "simply are not in our heads" and insist that this meaning externalism applies also to the mind. The authors are suggesting a third position, i.e. quite another form of externalism. Their so called active externalism implies an active involvement of the background in controlling the cognitive processes.
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Thirty years ago, grounded cognition had roots in philosophy, perception, cognitive linguistics, psycholinguistics, cognitive psychology, and cognitive neuropsychology. During the next twenty years, grounded cognition continued developing in these areas, and also took new forms in robotics, cognitive ecology, cognitive neuroscience, and developmental psychology. In the past ten years, research on grounded cognition has grown rapidly, especially in cognitive neuroscience, social neuroscience, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and developmental psychology. Currently, grounded cognition appears to be achieving increased acceptance throughout cognitive science, shifting from relatively minor status to increasing importance. Nevertheless, researchers wonder whether grounded mechanisms lie at the heart of the cognitive system or are peripheral to classic symbolic mechanisms. Although grounded cognition is currently dominated by demonstration experiments in the absence of well-developed theories, the area is likely to become increasingly theory-driven over the next thirty years. Another likely development is the increased incorporation of grounding mechanisms into cognitive architectures and into accounts of classic cognitive phenomena. As this incorporation occurs, much functionality of these architectures and phenomena is likely to remain, along with many original mechanisms. Future theories of grounded cognition are likely to be heavily influenced by both cognitive neuroscience and social neuroscience, and also by developmental science and robotics. Aspects from the three major perspectives in cognitive science—classic symbolic architectures, statistical/dynamical systems, and grounded cognition—will probably be integrated increasingly in future theories, each capturing indispensable aspects of intelligence.