In the middle of hurricane season, the phrase “eye tracker” does not put a Floridian like me at ease. Having encountered several hurricanes in the past it is hard to think of an eye tracker in any other context. For me, it registers from the meteorological perspective.
It’s a bit funny that certain words trigger unrelated memories and thoughts for different people from different places.
One recent afternoon, I walked into the exhibition “Building the Contemporary Collection: Five Years of Acquisitions.” In the back of the gallery, the Eye Tracker system was set up. Participants were instructed to put on goggles with a camera planted in the center.
East Carolina University faculty members Cynthia Bickley-Green, principal investigator and associate professor of art education, and co-researcher Nicolas Murray, associate professor and director of the ECU Visual Motor Laboratory in the Department of Kinesiology, supervised the experiment. The title of the study was Mobile Eye- Tracker (MET) Gaze Patterns Generated by Artworks and Museum Locations. The “Mobile Eye” is manufactured by Applied Science Laboratories.
The beholder’s eye movements are tracked by video taping three infrared lights that reflect from the beholder’s corneal lens. Participants observed two works of art: “Untitled (Aurora Leading Cephalus), 1964” by Bob Thompson and “Late Night Reflections, 1972” by Alma Thomas. They were asked questions, from reflective to introspective to fact finding.
According to Bickley-Green, the hypothesis of the project is that aspects of the aesthetic experience of the beholder’s gaze patterns are created by the visual elements of the artwork and the cognitive goals of the beholder. The cognitive goals of the viewer change when the viewer answers different questions related to the painting. The purpose, of course, is to learn if we can detect a difference in the gaze patterns generated by the different questions. The potential benefit is that the results may be used with other populations in other situations. This will possibly shed light on people’s thinking patterns, which is the greatest outcome of the study because it helps us in communicating better with people.
The experiment closed with researcher-participant review of the recording. I was surprised that several people generally had the same eye movements in response to the same questions. Also, the researchers basically expected the results.
After all, I guess we all do look at the same things and have matching reactions. Now the term “eye tracker” won’t always have negative connotations.