Whatchoo Lookin' At?

March 26, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

A few months ago in this blog, I speculated about what people in supermarkets spend their time doing. Ask people, and most would say “shopping.” But I wondered what the results could be if we could somehow track what they were actually looking at. My guess was that they spend much more time looking at other shoppers than at the stuff on the shelves.

We may not yet have unobtrusive ways of following the gaze of people as they walk around, but eyetracking technology can tell us what people actually look at when they look at a computer screen. The technology can overlay the screen image with a color map showing which places on the screen got the most attention. Here, for example, is a newspaper. Red areas were the most looked at, green the least. Purple X’s are mouse clicks.

One researcher, Tara Pierce Coyne, found that as with most things in life, there are differences between the sexes. Here’s a photo of baseball Hall-of-Famer George Brett. (The image was not a stand-alone as it is here, but part of a larger page with biographical information. ) Both women and men looked at Brett’s face, but men were also interested in an area not usually thought of as having much to do with on-base percentage.

Of course, if you asked guys what they looked at, they would probably not mention this area. They wouldn’t be deliberately lying. It’s just that we’re not always aware of everything we are doing.

Nor should Brett be flattered. Men’s attention (but not women’s) drifted to similar areas even when viewers were told to look at the Website of the American Kennel Club.

I bet you looked.

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