The science of eye tracking has been around as early as the 1800s. Although the technology wasn’t where it is today, people conducted eye movement studies for centuries using direct observations. In 1879, a French ophthalmologist named Louis Émile Javal made an observation when reading. He realized reading didn’t involve smooth sweeping across the text, but rather the reader’s eyes would have a series of short stops throughout with rapid eye movement. These short stops are referred to as eye fixations. From the time he made these observations and through the 1900s, people continued to conduct eye tracking studies to make more sense of these eye fixations. Even today, people ask themselves why do a test subject’s eyes stop on certain areas and why do they fixate on certain areas more than others.
In the early 1900s, an educational psychologist named Edmund Burke Huey built an early eye tracker. He used contact lens with holes for the pupils. The contact lens were connected to aluminum pointers, which would move along with the eyes to track a test subject’s eye movement. After Huey’s early eye tracking technology, an experimental education psychologist named Guy Thomas Buswell from Chicago built the first non-intrusive eye tracker. Unlike Huey, Buswell used beams of light that were reflected on the test subject’s eyes, and then recorded on film. It was still an early form of eye tracking technology, but again it was much less intrusive compared to Huey’s eye tracking methods.
In the 1950s, a Russian psychologist named Alfred Lukyanovich Yarbus conducted several eye tracking studies that resulted in important eye tracking research. His 1967 book is still referenced today, as it showed that the task given to the eye tracking test subject has a very large influence on the individual’s eye movement and fixation. Simply put, his research showed the relation between eye fixations and the test subject’s interest.
Moving into the 1970s, eye tracking studies and research continued to rapidly grow. Just like in the 1800s and early 1900s-1950s, the eye tracking research focused mainly on studying how people read. In the 1980s, Just and Carpenter came up with the Strong eye-mind hypothesis. This hypothesis states that when a subject is viewing a word or object, he or she is also processing it cognitively (thinking about it) for exactly the same amount of time he or she is fixating on it. During this time, the Strong eye-mind hypothesis was questioned because of the idea of covert attention, which is the attention to something that one is not looking at.
The 1980s also saw the first use of eye tracking technology to help answer questions related to human-computer interaction. Researchers analyzed how users navigated through and interacted with computer command windows. These researchers also made advancements in the technology by using real time eye tracking results to help disabled people.
Today, eye tracking technology and research is continuing to grow. At LookTracker, we use eye tracking technology to help webmasters and digital marketers understand how users are looking at their web pages and media. We see how these users fixate on specific areas to improve their designs and digital media. The eye tracking technology is continuing to advance, resulting in data to be increasingly more accurate. The future of eye tracking technology will continue to grow, as it will be incorporated in almost all aspects of life.