Psychologists say 'Let your eyes do the talking'

Issue date: 17 March 2006


eye eye image 'Science Alive' 17 and 18 March
The Galleries Broadmead

Psychologists from the University of the West of England will be joining forces with scientists from the University of Bristol for 'Science Alive' demonstrations in the Galleries Broadmead on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 March 2006.

Dr Pricilla Heard and Dr Beatrice López from UWE are running a stall that will engage shoppers by testing and talking to them about Psychology – in particular eye movements when looking at pictures. Using new eye tracking equipment the researchers will record where the mind is instructing the eyes to look when someone is asked to examine a scene in order to extract information. Preliminary research has shown that when looking at a busy scene for the first time the focus of attention is directed by the instructions in mind.

Dr Heard said, “We are interested in how people collect information from the world around them and in what the eyes can tell us about how the mind works. The tasks we set will demonstrate how peoples eye movements change depending on how they are asked to look at something. If for example a task is set where someone is asked to memorise all the objects in a room they will cast their eyes around widely resulting in a wide range of eye movements. However if we ask someone to describe one object in the centre of the room eye movement is concentrated and therefore focused.

“Adults and children will be shown scenes with people and objects. When they are primed with a particular question – such as 'does anyone in the picture look sad?'- we want to see if the attention focus and the pattern of eye movements change when compared to the reaction of people who are asked to just look at the people in the picture. We hope that by observing children and adults we will be able to see if patterns change as we develop.”

The scientists will also examine visual search strategies when the mind is looking for hidden information using 'pop-out' hidden figures. Dr Heard continues, “Using graphics from children's books where for example 'faces' are hidden in a woodland scene we will ask people to search for the hidden faces. This can tell us how we search for hidden information and what happens when we find it – when the faces 'pop-out' from the trees.”

Science Alive takes place at the Galleries in Broadmead today and on Saturday 18 March between 10.00 and 17.00.

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