The zoo through the eyes of children

Tobii Pro Glasses 2 wearable eye tracker was used to study 6-to 12- year old's perception of the Nordhorn Zoo, in Germany. By collecting and analyzing eye tracking data from the children as they explored the outdoor environments, researchers from the University of Applied Sciences in Germany could provide unbiased insights on one of the zoo's most important group of visitors.

Tools and Methods

A Child wearing Tobii Pro Glasses 2 eye tracker

The objective of this project is to analyze, within the zoo, the perception of children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. The survey area was limited to the entrance up to the first enclosure. The project team addressed the following research questions:

  • Do children first approach the pond, which is designed as an eye catcher, within the entrance area?
  • What do children notice at the pond?
  • Which areas are observed intensely, and which areas are ignored?
  • Are there any visual barriers for the children?
  • Which emotions can be observed?
  • What do children enjoy most within the areas under examination?
  • Which insights may be adapted for other areas of the zoo?

The application of Tobii Glasses 1 and, later on, Tobii Pro Glasses 2, enabled researchers to observe the areas of research through the eyes of the children. The eye tracking study was supplemented by situational observations and a short interview with the participants. Moreover, a control group without the eye tracker was observed in order to exclude potentially divergent behaviour of wearing eye tracking glasses. In total, 20 high-quality records were collected both for the group with glasses and the control group.

A mobile calibration device was installed next to the entrance. This consisted of a PVC sheet, seating, and a sun shade. The test individuals were approached in front of the entrance and, if interested in taking part, parents were asked for their permission. First, the required statistics were recorded, followed by a calibration exercise. The children were then free to enter the zoo without further instructions. The subjects were observed from a distance during their tour. At the end of their visit, the participants were asked to answer a few questions concerning the area of observation.

“The application of Tobii Glasses 2 provides various opportunities and is promising for future studies.”

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Litfin, Professor of Marketing, Service, and Innovation Management at the Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences at Lingen Campus


The two test groups differed slightly in terms of their retention time. The group with glasses remained within the area of observation longer. However, the difference was statistically insignificant. As intended by zoo management, the children's attention was attracted by the flowing water elements. Hence, the ponds fulfilled their function as an eye catcher.

At a few locations, visual barriers were detected. Furthermore, the children observed animal enclosures longer than the information boards within the entrance area of the zoo. The design of the boards played a decisive role: interactive and illustrated boards were better perceived and interacted with than static boards with a high level of text content.

This project was a first step in understanding the perspectives and perceptions of children visiting the Nordhorn Zoo. The students were also able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the outdoor application of wearable eye tracking with 6- to 12-year-old children.


During the fifth semester of the "Business and Management" program at the Osnabrück University of Applied Science at Lingen Campus in Germany, students are required to participate in a business-oriented project. The relevant topics are adapted from practice and must be implemented by teams of students based upon scientific theories and concepts.

One of the project topics was based on a request by the Nordhorn Zoo to the Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences in Germany. Since children are one of the facility's main target groups, they continuously strive for a child-oriented layout of their facilities. In order to achieve this goal, the first step is to examine how kids perceive the zoo. More specifically, this exploratory study focused on the entrance area.

Mobile eye tracking enables observers to view the world through the eyes of children and to better understand their perception of their surroundings.

The project was run by S. Focks, D. Lohmann, D. Meyer, and C. Steinweg– all students of the Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences. Their study was performed under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Thorsten Litfin, Professor of Marketing, Service, and Innovation Management, and Özlem Teckert, a Research Assistant and PhD candidate at Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences.