Eye tracking is the study of the motion of the eye relative to the head, as well as determining the point of gaze. Research in this field has been conducted for a long time because it has potential applications in multiple areas such as marketing research, psychology, product design, cognitive linguistics etc.
Such research started being done as early as the 19th century. During that time the researchers conducting these studies had to measure the eye tracking through direct observation. However, the procedure had evolved during the years and by the late 20th century several non-intrusive methods for eye tracking had been developed which allowed researchers to accurately measure the eye motion while avoiding any discomfort to their test subjects. The research conducted during this time allowed us to get a better understanding of several cognitive processes that the human experiences whenever he reads or focuses on an object that has captured his interest. More recent studies tend to focus their attention on how a person interacts with computers, specifically their interfaces and which parts draw the eyes towards them and for how long.
The extensive research done in this field was started as a way of finding out what captures people's attention during reading. However, its applications have diversified over the years and now encompass a wide range of wildly different fields of work. Eye tracking research has had an impact in the medical field, for instance. By establishing what the standard eye movement is during certain tests medical professionals can perform neurological diagnosis just by observing abnormal eye movement behavior during those same tests. Some might remember from movies or other situations whenever someone gets hit on the head a doctor comes with a flashing light and tells the patient to follow the light with their eyes.
Eye Tracking Research - Benefits?
Psychology is another field which has greatly benefited from the study of eye tracking. By monitoring where people look and how long they look for during certain interactions, whether it is with another person, an animal, a computer or any other inanimate object, researchers have a better understanding of the interaction process. Eye movement, together with body language, reveals a lot about how humans communicate non-verbally.
However, there probably is no other field which has benefited more from eye tracking research than the commercial sector. Nowadays, big companies spend a lot of money on eye movement studies in order to show if their product design or webpage or advertisements draw in the gaze of the viewers. It has long been established that people do not focus their attention equally on every individual detail that is placed in front of them. Newspapers knew this for a long time: through research they knew that a person's gaze typically goes from top left corner to bottom right corner, so they always tried to put the most interesting stuff there. Now this way of thinking has been adopted by many other types of companies and it is eye tracking research that helps them determine what catches their public's eyes and what does not.