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Vision Res. 2012 Jun 1;62:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2012.03.019. Epub 2012 Apr 2.

Reconsidering Yarbus: a failure to predict observers' task from eye movement patterns.

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Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, United States.


In 1967, Yarbus presented qualitative data from one observer showing that the patterns of eye movements were dramatically affected by an observer's task, suggesting that complex mental states could be inferred from scan paths. The strong claim of this very influential finding has never been rigorously tested. Our observers viewed photographs for 10s each. They performed one of four image-based tasks while eye movements were recorded. A pattern classifier, given features from the static scan paths, could identify the image and the observer at above-chance levels. However, it could not predict a viewer's task. Shorter and longer (60s) viewing epochs produced similar results. Critically, human judges also failed to identify the tasks performed by the observers based on the static scan paths. The Yarbus finding is evocative, and while it is possible an observer's mental state might be decoded from some aspect of eye movements, static scan paths alone do not appear to be adequate to infer complex mental states of an observer.

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