Guess what?! Eye gaze and conversation in Parkinsons research published

This month we published a paper in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders entitled “Gaze-speech coordination during social interaction in Parkinson’s disease“. The research used mobile eye tracking to examine how people with and without Parkinsons use eye movements during spoken conversation. In order to get people talking we asked them to play a card guessing game, based on the children’s guessing game “HedBanz” in which one player has to describe an object written on a card and the other player has to guess. A link to the full open access publication is available here.

Previous research has shown that eye movements are important in signalling “turn taking” in conversation, whereby the speaker indicates to their conversation partner that the end of the speech turn is coming. Although you might not be aware that you are doing it, we often direct our eye gaze towards the other persons face to indicate it is their turn to speak next. Other work by myself and others has shown how the voluntary control of eye movements is affected in Parkinsons disease. Taking these findings together, we wondered if there were differences in how patients used their eyes during speech and conversation.

The results showed that people with Parkinsons tend to make longer duration periods of eye fixation on the other persons face and elsewhere. They did less well when describing cards to the other player, suggesting problems with speech, but guessed just as many objects when listening to someone else describing, suggesting that their condition didn’t affect their ability to understand others. We also found that the timing of speech turns was subtly different when a patient was playing the game, with a tendency towards shorter gaps and more interruptions in speech, indicating people with Parkinsons may be slightly more impulsive and sometimes “jump in” to interrupt others more.

The results confirm something I have personally noticed about people with Parkinsons over the years: That they sometimes have a subtly different pattern of gaze during conversation including extended periods of eye contact. This can be slightly disconcerting if you are not aware of it and together with phenomena like reduced facial expression might adversely affect social interaction and communication. We think that wider public knowledge and awareness of some of these more subtle features of the condition could itself improve the quality of life and social connectedness of people with Parkinsons.

The research was conducted in collaboration with Gemma Ezard (Lincolnshire NHS) and Frouke Hermans (formerly University of Lincoln now at the Open University in the Netherlands) and was funded by BA/Leverhulme small grant Ref: SG152231

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!


GPSAC Research Project Launch Event – 9th April

The General Practice Saccade Assessment Cohort research project (GPSAC) will examine whether a quick, portable and easy to use test of eye movements (saccades) could be used as an all-in-one neurological health check for patients in primary care, capable of detecting early signs of dementia and other brain disorders.  In order to develop the project further it would be useful to get input from local GPs, practice nurses and members of the public on the project idea, design and practical issues facing patients and professionals. 


With this aim a launch workshop event has been scheduled for spring 2013 which will include a practical demonstration of the saccadometer device, project presentation, lunch and focus group discussions. Travel and other expenses for attendees will be reimbursed.

Date & Time: Tuesday 9th April 2013 11am-2.30 pm

Location: Lincoln Think Tank, Ruston Way, LN6 7FL 

Please contact  me (Tim Hodgson), University of Lincoln to register: email: 01522 886159