As a researcher, even if you’re a novice to eye tracking technology, you likely understand the critical positive insights eye tracking provides your work. But with shrinking pay lines, stiff competition, and long funding cycles, it may seem like obtaining funding for your eye tracker is years away. Here are the four most impactful benefits of eye tracking to highlight in your research proposal so grant reviewers will find it more compelling.
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.
With eye tracking you can determine gaze location at the resolution of a singular pixel, with timing at the resolution of milliseconds. Without eye tracking, you might only infer that a musician looked at their sheet music while playing piano. However, with eye tracking, you can quantify exactly how long and where the participant was looking — for example, the first staff of the sheet music. 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. For example, in the image below, the participant made more fixations and spent longer looking at the sheet music, as compared to the piano. 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. Eye tracking provides a high level of detail of visual behavior not otherwise available by any other technology, particularly for understanding the visual behavior of small areas, fine details, or complex scenes. Finally, qualitative tools, like heat maps and gaze plots, add to the overall holistic understanding of visual behavior.
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.
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.
By highlighting these four benefits of adding eye tracking to your research, we hope that your grant review panel will be sufficiently convinced to fund your 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.
About the author
Dr. Marisa Biondi is a Senior Research Scientist at Tobii Pro. She focuses on building an eye tracking community through partnerships with researchers hoping to implement eye tracking in their work and by supporting existing customers in acquiring knowledge or additional grants. Dr. Biondi has a Ph.D. in Psychological & Brain Sciences from Texas A&M University and used fNIRS and eye tracking to study the functional organization of the developing human brain.