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Behav Res Methods. 2013 Mar;45(1):229-50. doi: 10.3758/s13428-012-0245-6.

Parsing eye-tracking data of variable quality to provide accurate fixation duration estimates in infants and adults.

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  • 1Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, WC1E 7HX, UK.


Researchers studying infants' spontaneous allocation of attention have traditionally relied on hand-coding infants' direction of gaze from videos; these techniques have low temporal and spatial resolution and are labor intensive. Eye-tracking technology potentially allows for much more precise measurement of how attention is allocated at the subsecond scale, but a number of technical and methodological issues have given rise to caution about the quality and reliability of high temporal resolution data obtained from infants. We present analyses suggesting that when standard dispersal-based fixation detection algorithms are used to parse eye-tracking data obtained from infants, the results appear to be heavily influenced by interindividual variations in data quality. We discuss the causes of these artifacts, including fragmentary fixations arising from flickery or unreliable contact with the eyetracker and variable degrees of imprecision in reported position of gaze. We also present new algorithms designed to cope with these problems by including a number of new post hoc verification checks to identify and eliminate fixations that may be artifactual. We assess the results of our algorithms by testing their reliability using a variety of methods and on several data sets. We contend that, with appropriate data analysis methods, fixation duration can be a reliable and stable measure in infants. We conclude by discussing ways in which studying fixation durations during unconstrained orienting may offer insights into the relationship between attention and learning in naturalistic settings.

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