A Rewarding Summer of Eye movement Research

Reward and risk on blue road sign with blue sky The Lincoln Eyelink Lab (a.k.a. Lab E1) promises to be a busy place this summer. Undergraduate Research Opportunities Scheme (UROS) students Daniel Richardson and Jade Pickering will be working in the lab between July and August alongside two eye movement researchers from Turkey.

 Daniel Richardson is examining the “neuroeconomics” of reward and eye movements. Together we are developing a task in which participants learn mappings between target stimuli and points rewards. We are interested in whether the learned reward value of stimuli might subtley modify the kinematics (speed and accuracy) of eye movements made towards them.

 Jade Pickering will be assisting with  my investigations of oculomotor and cognitive studies in people with Parkinsons later in the summer as well as collecting some pilot data for the GPSAC project using the Ober saccadometer device.

PhD research student Murat Ozger will be continuing to develop his work on visual attention and eye movements in Crime Scene Investigation settings (see YouTube video).eye

We are also joined by visiting researcher Aycem Ozturk (Dokus Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey) who is in the UK to learn about the Eyelink 1000 system and to further develop her research into oculomotor function in Parkinsons and dementia.

It is exciting for me to be working in such a busy team of researchers this year and I am sure it will be a rewarding summer!


Award for Journal of Neuroscience Psychology and Economics paper

Our 2012 fMRI “Neuro-economics” study of a Coordination / Temptation game scenario, carried out in collaboration with Milan based social philosopher Francesco Guala has been given an award as one of the Top 10 all time classic papers published in the APA publication JNPE. I am looking forward to traveling to Munich to accept the award at the NeuroPsychoEconomics conference at Ludwig-Maximillian University at the end of May.

Abstract of paper

More about the conference 

Psychology News Blog 

And previous posts


Spatial Working Memory and Saccades

This month I attended the London meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society. I presented preliminary analysis of some eye movement data we recorded whilst people perform a task based upon a widely used computerised neuropsychological test of spatial working memory (Cambridge Cognition Ltd’s CANTAB SWM test).

Spatial working memory refers to the short term storage of information in memory about where things are in space for guiding our behaviour and actions. In the Cantab task “tokens” are hidden under boxes on a screen and participants have to search for them by clicking with a mouse on the boxes and remember where they found the tokens to guide subsequent box selections (as tokens are never hidden under the same location twice). As you can see in the videos here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PStfmW6q_c0 participants make quite a lot of eye movements in the task! So the challenge has been to make sense of how eye movements are guided. Are they shaped by the memory of where tokens have been found, such that the eyes help to keep track of the route covered? Or do they exclusively plan a search route ahead selecting the next box to be clicked on? Might eye movement measures extracted from the task be useful in assessing memory problems?

thumb2 Our analysis suggests that most eye movements look ahead and select the next box to be clicked on well in advance of the mouse click which reveals its contents. However, particularly in a few participants, the eyes also get drawn back to locations where tokens have already been found, even if they don’t click on the box, indicating that they do actually remember that a token hasnt been found there (see here for a nice example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtoCLcqtHnM). These subjects were more likely to go on to make lots of actual click errors in the most difficult version of the task though, suggesting eye movements measures may be more sensitive than just mouse clicks.

We have more analysis and work to do with this task and hope to get some people with Parkinsons to do the test as we think they may show subtly different patterns of eye movements in the task to otherwise healthy individuals.

“Game-ifying” visual search training for children

Our Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the WESC foundation Exeter is nearly half way through its two years and is getting really exciting. Dr Jonathan Waddington, post-doctoral neuroscientist and lead researcher based at WESC recently visited the Perception Action Cognition research group in Lincoln to up date us on progress. The visual search computer game is nearly ready to move into the next stage of an evaluation trial to see whether it can deliver improvements in functional vision in children with visual field loss. See here for a more details via the WESC research and development blog:


visual search


The fingers, not the eyes, have it

Next week we will be presenting our work on orienting to socio-biological cues in children at the 17th European Conference on Eye Movements in Lund, Sweden.

me and eyetrackerAt last years Lincoln Summer Scientist event we asked children to play a game in which they followed a cartoon bee jumping to the left or right with their eyes whilst distracting pictures of arrows, pointing fingers and someone else’s eyes gazing to the left or right were shown in the middle of the screen.  We tracked their eye movements with an Eyelink 1000 eye tracking system and measured how quickly they made saccades to follow the bee.

We found that the youngest children (4-5 year olds) showed a large “congruency” effect for pictures of pointing fingers such that their speed of looking was slowest when the bee jumped in the opposite direction to that in which the hand pointed. Surprisingly, although the pre-schoolers weren’t similarly affected by pictures of eyes and arrows, older fellow summer scientists showed an equally strong congruency effect for all three types of cue (hand, eye and arrows).

The results are potentially very interesting and important in respect to understanding the best ways to direct young children’s attention quickly and effectively in an educational context as well as keeping them away from harm inside or outside of the home, but they might also have more profound implications. Rather than having hard wired “social brain” systems for processing socio-biological stimuli as suggested by some theorists, instead the brain may learn to form fast connections between what we see and what we do in early childhood. It just happens that pointing fingers may be among the first cues children learn to use in this way.

busy bee

We’re looking forward to finding out what other researchers think of our results in Lund and plan to replicate the finding at this years Lincoln Summer Scientists event. The work is carried out in collaboration with Nicola Gregory (Bournemouth University Face Research Centre). The work is part supported by the WESC foundation for Childhood Visual Impairment.