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J Vis. 2007 Dec 19;7(14):16.1-20. doi: 10.1167/7.14.16.

Task and context determine where you look.

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Center for Visual Science, Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA.


The deployment of human gaze has been almost exclusively studied independent of any specific ongoing task and limited to two-dimensional picture viewing. This contrasts with its use in everyday life, which mostly consists of purposeful tasks where gaze is crucially involved. To better understand deployment of gaze under such circumstances, we devised a series of experiments, in which subjects navigated along a walkway in a virtual environment and executed combinations of approach and avoidance tasks. The position of the body and the gaze were monitored during the execution of the task combinations and dependence of gaze on the ongoing tasks as well as the visual features of the scene was analyzed. Gaze distributions were compared to a random gaze allocation strategy as well as a specific "saliency model." Gaze distributions showed high similarity across subjects. Moreover, the precise fixation locations on the objects depended on the ongoing task to the point that the specific tasks could be predicted from the subject's fixation data. By contrast, gaze allocation according to a random or a saliency model did not predict the executed fixations or the observed dependence of fixation locations on the specific task.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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