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What is Eye Tracking?

Christina Whyte
Christina Whyte

Eye tracking is a tool used to monitor and record the movement of a person's eyes and the focus of his or her gaze. This is used to learn what people look at, how long they look at something, and in what order they look at things. There are multiple uses for this data, including research and business.

There are a number of different commercially available systems to measure eye movement with a variety of features, but the basic mechanics of eye tracking devices are the same. An infrared light is used to shine on the eye and reflect back the position of the pupil at any given time. Special software records the pupil position and changes in this position, and determines what the person was looking at based on where his or her pupils were directed.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

In animals and in people who cannot speak, such as infants and the severely disabled or paralyzed, eye tracking can reveal interest level, preferences, and other important data. This can even be used for communication in people who have very limited voluntary movement. Eye movements between letters or pictures on a screen can be tracked, allowing the person to compose a message.

Eye tracking is also frequently used in business settings for development and testing of products. In website layout design, eye tracking can reveal what people look at first, the path they follow when they look at the screen, and what areas they do not look at. Researchers can also tell when a person has difficulty finding information or when they are confused by the layout, based on rapid eye movement all around the page without focusing on any particular area. It is also common for researchers to ask a person to find some information on a website or pretend they are using the website at home, and then track how the person does this.

The information gleaned from eye tracking can be used to place important or profitable pieces of information in the best possible locations on a webpage, such as putting headlines in a place where most people look right away. It can also be used to discover the reason why a website is not profitable, including if people are confused by the layout or are not looking where the webmaster wants them to look. For example, many people who use the Internet a lot have developed a kind of immunity to advertising, in which their eyes travel quickly over the common locations for ads. Advertisers must combat this if advertising is to be profitable, and eye tracking is one strategy that can be utilized.

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