Eye Tracking

Eye tracking is an empirical method of recording the eye movements of a person looking at a given stimulus. We use this technique to track gaze patterns while beholding artworks – either in the lab with high quality reproductions on a computer screen (remote eye tracker) or with original artworks in museums (mobile eye tracker: Santini et al. 2018). Eye trackers are non-invasive devices based on infrared cameras. They track the movements of the pupil and the corneal reflection and extrapolate the individual gaze path over the art work. This gaze path is then broken down into eye movement events for further analysis, of which the most common are fixations and saccades.

During a fixation the gaze hovers in a small, contained area for approx. 300 ms. This is most commonly associated with cognitive attention to that area and an intake of visual information. The saccade moves the gaze from one fixation to another; it normally lasts less than 100 ms and is one of the fastest movements our bodies are capable of. During a saccade we are essentially blind. The analysis of these events gives us a better understanding of what happens in the interaction between a viewer and a work of art. We can see what draws the viewer’s attention, in what order and from what direction they “read” the composition and/or narrative of the work, as well as what they don’t see and behaviors they don’t exhibit that we might have expected. 

Eye tracking is an innovative and promising methodological approach in Art History. So far we have used eye tracking to study single artworks (Aufreiter 2014), check art historical theories that often speculate about specific forms of viewing (Brinkmann et al. 2014, Rosenberg 2014), compare how age (Brüner 2017), gender, expertise (Rosenberg 2011), and culture influence the viewing of artworks, and asses the effects of contextual circumstance (Klein et al. 2014, Brieber et al. 2014, Pitnik 2017). However, much research remains to be done in this emerging approach to visual culture. Eye tracking opens many novel avenues for investigating Art Historical materials and provides a first-hand perspective of our reception and interaction with works of art. 


In collaboration with computer scientists at the University of Tübingen, we have developed an open access tool for the analysis of eye tracking data called EyeTrace. It combines a variety of evaluation methods and, unlike other programs of its kind, can work with and compare data from different eye tracker manufacturers. The development of EyeTrace started with algorithms specifically needed for Art Historical research—especially to analyse patterns of saccades (such as frequently repeated saccades between fixation clusters and saccade heat maps). Meanwhile EyeTrace is growing into a comprehensive tool for eye tracking data analysis including dynamic stimuli (videos). For future steps we plan to implement automatic analyses of 3D scenarios, i.e. gaze patterns of moving visitors while they are viewing original paintings and sculptures in a museum setting. Click here (http://www.ti.uni-tuebingen.de/Eyetrace.eyetrace.0.html) to learn more about EyeTrace and or download a copy.

Introductory Literature:

Rosenberg, Raphael. "Blicke Messen. Vorschläge für eine empirische Bildwissenschaft." In Jahrbuch der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste 27 (2013), 71–86. Göttingen: Wallstein, 2014. (http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/artdok/3028/)

Rosenberg, Raphael, and Christoph Klein. "The Moving Eye of the Beholder. Eye-Tracking and the Perception of Paintings." In Art, Aesthetics and the Brain, edited by Joseph P. Huston, Marcos Nadal, Francisco Mora, Luigi F. Agnati and Camilo José Cela-Conde, 79–108. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 

Further Reading:

Aufreiter, Johanna. "Farbe, Form und Stimmung. Eine Studie zu ausgewählten Landschaftsbildern Josef Dobrowskys." In Josef Dobrowsky – Wahrnehmung und Farbe [exhibition catalogue Belvedere, Vienna], edited by Agnes Husslein-Arco and Axel Köhne, 33–47. Wien: Belvedere, 2014.

Brieber, David, Marcos Nadal, Helmut Leder, and Raphael Rosenberg. "Art in Time and Space: Context Modulates the Relation between Art Experience and Viewing Time." PLoS ONE 9/6 (2014).

Brinkmann, Hanna, Laura Commare, Helmut Leder, and Raphael Rosenberg. "Abstract Art as a Universal Language?" Leonardo47, no. 3 (2014): 256–257.

Brüner, Pia. Ich Sehe Was, Was Du Nicht Siehst. Vienna (Master Thesis) 2017.

Commare, Laura, and Hanna Brinkmann. "Warum ‚Anything goes' der Goldstandard sein sollte – Überlegungen zu Methodentradition und empirischen Forschungsansätzen in den Kunstwissenschaften." In Newest Art History. Wohin geht die jüngste Kunstgeschichte? Band zur 18. Vökk-Tagung 2015, 161–179. Online since 2017.

Klein, Christoph, Juliane Betz, Martin Hirschbuehl, Caroline Fuchs, Barbara Schmiedtová, Martina Engelbrecht, Julia Müller-Paul, and Raphael Rosenberg. "Describing Art – An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Effects of Speaking on Gaze Movements during the Beholding of Paintings", PLoS ONE 9/12 (2014).

Pitnik, Claudia. Die Kunst Blicke Zu Lenken. Vienna (Master Thesis) 2017

Rosenberg, Raphael, and Helmut Leder. "Blickbewegungsforschung." In Bild. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch, edited by Stephan Günzel and Dieter Mersch, 433–438. Stuttgart, Weimar: J. B. Metzler, 2014.

Rosenberg, Raphael. "Dem Auge auf der Spur. Blickbewegungen beim Betrachten von Gemälden – historisch und empirisch." In Jahrbuch der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften für 2010, 76-89. Heidelberg: Winter, 2011.

Further Reading on Eye Trace:

Kübler, Thomas C, Katrin Sippel, Wolfgang Fuhl, Guilherme Schievelbein, Johanna Aufreiter, Raphael Rosenberg, Wolfgang Rosenstiel, and Enkelejda Kasneci. "Analysis of Eye Movements with Eyetrace." In International Joint Conference on Biomedical Engineering Systems and Technologies, 458-71: Springer, 2015.

Kübler, Thomas, Wolfgang Fuhl, Raphael Rosenberg, Wolfgang Rosenstiel, and Enkelejda Kasneci. "Novel methods for analysis and visualization of saccade trajectories." In Computer Vision – ECCV 2016 Workshops, edited by Gang Hua and Hervé Jégou, 783–797. S.l: Springer, 2016.

Fuhl, Wolfgang, Thomas Kübler, Hanna Brinkmann, Raphael Rosenberg, Wolfgang Rosenstiel, and Enkelejda Kasneci. "Region of interest generation algorithms for eye tracking data." In ETVIS ´18. Proceedings of the 3rd Workshop on Eye Tracking and Visualization: Warsaw, Poland, June 14–17 2018, 10. New York: ACM, 2018.

Hardware available at CReA

SR Research EyeLink 1000 Plus™ 
Pupil Labs Mobile Eye Tracking Headsets