Can we tell what you’re thinking by looking at your eyes?

    • Topic: Human Biology

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Your eyes are constantly in motion, scanning the world in front of you, even when you’re not looking for anything specific. When you read, search for something specific, or focus on a single point your eyes will move as you direct them, but will also bounce around in ways you do not notice. Both kinds of motion can give clues about what you are thinking and what you are trying to do. We want to see if computers can tell what you were doing when you looked at a picture by keeping track of how your eyes moved when you looked at it.

    In this study, people (all ages) will view color photographs of scenes that you might see every day, such as streets and houses. People will do one of three kinds of tasks: counting the number of a specific object in the image, looking at the image so they can describe it, or look at it with no direction. The computer will capture where, and for how long, people looked to figure out which of the three tasks they had been given.

    This study will help us better understand how our brain uses our eyes to accomplish certain tasks. Engineers may be able to use this to build more responsive devices and doctors may be better able to diagnose or treat certain diseases.

    Translational Vision Lab at Northeastern University

        » Translational Vision Lab

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Do You Look Scared?

    Find the “Do You Look Scared?” link station in the Organisms environment. Our pupils get bigger (dilate) when we are scared, so this activity tracks how the size of your pupils change to guess which image you thought was scariest.

    The information being collected about people’s eyes in the study on the front and at this link station are also things that people are good at noticing. You have probably noticed someone looking away while talking to you before, but have you ever paid attention to someone’s pupils before? Your pupils will also dilate for other reasons like being excited or being in a dark room. Can you figure out what someone else is thinking by looking at their pupils?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Hop, Skip, and Jump

    Have a friend hold up something and read it while you watch their eyes. In English we read from left to right, but that is not how your eyes move – they jump ahead and then jump back. This motion is called a saccade. Is this motion a surprise? Have you noticed it before in other people?

    Try doing it yourself while someone else watches you. You aren’t aware of this motion and your brain stitches together the jerky information your eyes send it into a smooth stream of information flowing from left to right.

    Someone watching a predictable motion event, such as someone crossing the street, will also show some interesting eye movements. Try to find a short movie clip and see if you can guess what the person watching thought would happen next.

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Contact Living Laboratory staff:

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