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Eye Tracking: The Next Stage

Eye Tracking: The Next StageIn a recent post focusing on eye tracking through the ages, we left off with the early 20th century accomplishments of Charles H. Judd and Thomas Buswell. While it’s a relatively short history, the progression of eye tracking has been rich with development, and curious figures like these would pave the way for a wide-open field.

In 1931, Earl, James, and Carl Taylor created the Ophthalmograph and Metronoscope. The two devices were used to record eye movement during reading and to train people to read more effectively. As the article at Uxbooth’s blog states, Louis Javal’s theories on reading not being a smooth motion had taken root and were understood as fact by then. (In the last article we talked about French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal’s observations in 1879 that a human’s eyes do not read continuously along a line of text, but that they make quick darting movements (saccades) combined with short little stops (fixations) as they scan across a page.)

Earl, James, and Carl Taylor’s Ophthalmograph was used to measure a reader’s saccades and fixations, demonstrating that an ‘efficient reader’ has a steady rhythm of saccades and fixations. But for those who hadn’t developed an efficient reading ability, there was the Metronoscope. A Metronoscope was created to help establish a more steady rhythm. Readers were shown one to three words at a time and as they finished reading each set of words, a new set was shown. As the reader grew accustomed to the speed and rhythm, the machine would speed up and the reader, in theory, along with it. The Metronoscope’s goal was to eventually eliminate regressions and establish a steady flow of words for the reader.

The article points out an interesting fact about eye tracking. For many years it was used simply as a tool in education research. Medical researchers and physicians ended up using it more frequently because it was expensive. But as computers and World Wide Web evolved, eye tracking has also become increasingly used by marketers and designers.

Marketing groups started doing research with eye tracking in the 1980s, measuring the effectiveness of ads in magazines. Cheaper eye tracking technology made it possible to study where viewers look on a page, which parts of the page were actually read and seen, and how much time was spent on each section. Before eye tracking became the norm, market researchers used voice stress analysis and galvanic skin response tests. The behavioral and physiological tests could evaluate the effectiveness of ads to some extent, but neither were very accurate.

As the 80s gave way to the 90s, eye tracking technology became more available, coinciding with the giant increase in applications as a result of the Internet.

Next article, we’ll finish out the timeline and take a look at some developments in the more recent history of eye tracking.

A Brief History of Eye-Tracking