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News

Psychology students track eye movements with new device

March 12, 2018

Awarded a National Science Foundation grant worth nearly $40,000, two Carthage professors have purchased eye-tracking equipment that psychology student researchers can use to detect people’s eye movements in real time.

“We are going to have some of the best technology that’s being used at top-line research universities,” said Anthony Barnhart, assistant professor of psychological science, who collaborated with department chair Leslie Cameron on the grant proposal.

With an NSF grant, the Psychological Science Department purchased an eye tracking device for its lab.This spring, the two faculty members have begun to integrate the research tool into their courses. In addition, the tracker will be a staple in the ongoing cognition and perception experiments their students conduct for senior theses, independent study, or the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.

The EyeLink Core Duo system sends a near-infrared LED beam to the subject’s eye, and a high-speed camera captures the reflection. Using the device and software, a researcher can track where the subject looks on a computer screen.

Because people make most of their eye movements unconsciously, the two professors say the eye tracker provides more accurate results. Otherwise, experiments must rely on subjects to report what they see.

Prof. Barnhart is eager to employ the device for research examining reading habits. For example, his students could study which words people tend to skip or how music and ambient noise influences the way they read.

It also holds promise for Prof. Barnhart’s line of inquiry into inattentional blindness, determining which of the competing stimuli capture people’s attention. That’s a concept central to his side profession as a magician, but the potentially more impactful applications include airplane cockpit design.

Likewise, the eye tracker is a potential game-changer for Prof. Cameron’s ongoing study of perception across the visual field. A more complete understanding of that process could lead to improvements in computer displays.

They envision this as an interdisciplinary tool. Eventually, faculty in graphic design, biology, or other areas could incorporate it into their own courses.

Although it’s housed at the Psychological Science Department’s laboratory in Lentz Hall, the eye-tracking equipment is portable. That’s purposeful, allowing professors and students to hold outreach events in the community.