How eye tracking can empower your research

It's possible that you've heard about eye tracking before, but you may also be asking yourself whether it's worth the hype, and if you should add it to your research toolkit. We’ve put together the four most impactful benefits of eye tracking to help you understand the value of the technology and decide if it’s right for you.  

 

2 children reading on a laptop

1. Eye tracking allows for automated & objective tracking of visual behavior

For decades, researchers have tried to understand what a person sees and how they process that information. Behavioral coding and participant surveys have long been used as measurements, but those methods can be prone to biases, errors, and require tedious counting and coding. 
 
For example, in developmental psychology research, one way of calculating infants’ attention was by recording them on camera and manually counting their visual attention frame by frame. Thankfully, the automated and objective nature of eye tracking enables better assessment of visual behavior which also means freedom from experimenter bias, issues with memory, social desirability, or other human biases. 

Using eye tracking to view where a piano musician looks

2. Eye tracking empowers you to quantify visual behavior

That means you can calculate exactly when, where, and for how long someone looks at a particular area. Depending on your eye tracker, gaze location can be determined at the resolution of a singular pixel, with timing at the resolution of milliseconds. Calculating the order of fixations is also possible – for example, the participant looked first at the sheet music for 200 ms, then the piano for 160 ms, then their right hand for 400 ms. This makes your data much more precise and powerful. 

Eye tracking has a variety of easy-to-use metrics, like total fixation duration or fixation count. Depending on the sampling rate, you may also be able to calculate saccade amplitude and velocity, to not only understand general attention, but also how the participants’ move their eyes as they search for information.

Additionally, visual behavior is itself a good proxy for certain cognitive and physiological concepts. By calculating changes in pupil diameter, you can understand the participant’s cognitive processing, interest, arousal, or fatigue. Finally, qualitative tools, like heat maps and gaze plots, add to the overall holistic understanding of visual behavior. 

Person wearing Tobii Pro Glasses 3 riding a bike

3. Eye tracking is unobtrusive and comfortable

Early eye tracking technology used to involve mirrors, heavy head-mounted cameras, or scleral coils directly on the eye. Now, modern screen-based or remote eye tracking can gather high-quality data non-invasively, without the need for chinrests or other apparatuses. Simply seat the participant in front of the system looking at the computer screen and you’re ready to eye track. Some systems even blend seamlessly in with the computer environment to eliminate distractions. There are also mobile, wearable eye tracking systems like Tobii Pro Glasses 3 that are lightweight and comfortable, not unlike wearing a pair of corrective glasses. Whether remote or wearable, the unobtrusive nature of modern eye tracking systems allows for increased participant comfort during testing sessions and more unbiased behavior captured. 

Tobii Pro Spectrum Eye Tracker Synced with EEG

4. Eye tracking can be combined with other techniques for deeper insights

Many tools are available for measuring cognitive processing in humans, including EEG, fNIRS, or fMRI. Additionally, physiological metrics like heart rate, respiration, or skin conductance can be easily obtained, providing additional insight into emotional processing. Multiple tools can be combined, with synchronized measurements across the testing session. Eye tracking is complementary to those technologies. For example, knowing where someone fixates is critical to understanding the data from an EEG study, as whether the participant attended to the screen or not will influence their electroencephalographic patterns. 

Eye tracking can even be paired with lower-tech tools, like surveys or interviews. Some researchers employ the Retrospective Think Aloud protocol, where the gaze information is used as a cue for the participant to explain their thought processes after performing a task. This combination of subjective and objective data can work together well to better understand cognitive mechanisms and processes. 

Whether you currently use lower or higher-tech ways to understand human behavior, eye tracking has a place to complement them all. 

Tobii Pro Eye Tracking Guide

What's next?

By highlighting these four benefits of adding eye tracking to your research, we hope that you feel more informed about the technology and encouraged to try it for yourself. 

Your next step is to find the right eye tracker for your research goals, by asking yourself questions like:

  • What types of stimuli are you showing your participants?
  • What is your population?
  • Where will you be collecting data?
  • What type of eye movements or metrics do you want to study?
     

Read our exclusive guide.

Person filling out a grant proposal

Additional Resources:

We can help with your grant proposal! 

If you need customized assistance with your grant application, then we can help! Our Funding Support Services provide complimentary support to researchers like you to help you write the most effective grant proposals to justify funding eye tracking technology. Fill out a short interest form and one of our expert Research Scientists will reach out to guide you through the process. 

Want to learn more about how eye tracking works?

 Here’s a brief explanation of the technology.