Eye tracking research has been conducted ever since the late 1870s in order to determine what aspects of an image or text attracts our attention and what areas we overlook. The earliest studies revealed that people do not process all information equally. Instead, we tend to have short stops and focus on some areas more than others. These stops are called fixations and research has shown that they are directly linked to the test subject’s interests. It sounds very reasonable that we would pause on a visual element that captivates our attention and quickly skim over those that do not.
The first studies involving eye movement were performed on test subjects who were reading. These were not very accurate, as the technology of the time did not permit it. Even so, researchers were still able to determine certain habits which most people adopt when they are reading. For instance, as soon as we see a new page our focus tends to start from the upper left corner and immediately shift towards the lower right corner, usually neglecting the other regions. The newspaper industry was quick to use these new findings, as it is still obvious in today’s papers. Most obvious would be in a tabloid that frequently uses powerful imagery to attract the reader’s attention. Careful planning is put into the layout of each individual page so that the most important parts are always placed in areas which will receive the most attention. Furthermore, the use of buzzwords is also very common. Terms such as “murder”, “sex”, “violence” are always found in headlines because they immediately grab the reader’s attention and makes him focus on the articles.
With the passage of time came advances in technology which allowed for much more accurate measurements. These allowed the researchers to further study eye movement and all of its possible implications. In medicine, abnormal eye movement can be used as a quick diagnosis for neurological problems. If you know what is a normal eye movement response to certain stimuli, then any unusual response can indicate an issue such as a concussion.
Psychology has also made use of the findings of eye tracking researchers. Seeing how a person responds from a visual perspective to any given situation can be a useful display of non-verbal communication. If it is paired together with other established forms of non-verbal communication, it can reveal a lot about the cognitive processes that someone goes through.
Without a doubt, the area that has benefited most from the studies conducted into eye movement has been the commercial sector. Knowing what captivates the audience and what does not is a valuable piece of information that all companies are willing to pay big money for. The studies performed are taken into account whenever a company is developing their brand. The design of their products, the commercials used to promote them and even the containers used to store them are all the result of careful planning based on what research has shown attracts their customers’ attention.