Learning How Visitors Look: Applications of Eye Tracking Research was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services Sparks! Ignition grant. The Indianapolis Museum of Art engaged in a research project with the aim of exploring whether or not eye tracking technology can be useful to museums seeking to better understand how in-gallery visitors actually “see” the objects in a collection. The research was addressed and tested in the context of three separate experiments that were conducted at the IMA between July 2011 and June 2012.
The first experiment used an EyeTech VT2 to track participant eye movements while being guided through a set of tasks. The tracker was uncalibrated for this round of testing. The results of the first experiment are described in detail in the following paper: Evaluating the Practical Applications of Eye Tracking.
The second experiment was similar to the first, except the eye tracking equipment was calibrated to each participant. The tracker was more accurate when calibrated, but this would preclude its use in the gallery outside of controlled experiments.
The final experiment was to use the eye tracker during a Visual Thinking Strategy Session. These sessions involved a leader discussing the work of art and engaging the user with questions. While not perfect, the eye tracker did prove effective as a tool for VTS facilitators to assess the relationship between the visitors gaze and the response.
Overall, it was determined that the eye tracking technology was not suitable for practical use in the galleries as a reliable tool to see where visitors are looking. However, in controlled situations it may be used for analysis of specific interpretation strategies.