Microsaccades distinguish looking from seeing

  • Eva Krueger University of Central Florida, USA , & SBB-CFF-FSS, Switzerland
  • Andrea Schneider University of Bern, Switzerland
  • Ben Sawyer Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
  • Alain Chavaillaz University of Fribourg, Switzerland
  • Andreas Sonderegger EPFL+ECAL Lab, 11, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
  • Rudolf Groner University of Bern & SCIANS Ltd, Bern (Switzerland)
  • Peter Hancock University of Central Florida, USA
Keywords: Fixational eye movements, eye tracking, microsaccades, visual load, visual attention


Understanding our visual world requires both looking and seeing. Dissociation of these processes can result in the phenomenon of inattentional blindness or ‘looking without seeing‘. Concomitant errors in applied settings can be serious, and even deadly. Current visual data analysis cannot differentiate between just ‘looking‘ and actual processing of visual information, i.e., ‘seeing‘. Differentiation may be possible through the examination of microsaccades; the involuntary, small-magnitude saccadic eye movements that occur during processed visual fixation. Recent work has suggested that microsaccades are post-attentional biosignals, potentially modulated by task. Specifically, microsaccade rates decrease with increased mental task demand, and increase with growing visual task difficulty. Such findings imply that there are fundamental differences in microsaccadic activity between visual and nonvisual tasks. To evaluate this proposition, we used a high-speed eye tracker to record participants in looking for differences between two images or, doing mental arithmetic, or both tasks in combination. Results showed that microsaccade rate was significantly increased in conditions that require high visual attention, and decreased in conditions that require less visual attention. The results support microsaccadic rate reflecting visual attention, and level of visual information processing. A measure that reflects to what extent and how an operator is processing visual information represents a critical step for the application of sophisticated visual assessment to real world tasks.

Author Biography

Eva Krueger, University of Central Florida, USA , & SBB-CFF-FSS, Switzerland

PhD in  Psychology at University of Bern.

Postdictoral Fellow at University of Central Florida.

Now Leader of  "Costumer Experience and Touchpoint Management" at SBB-CFF-FFS (=Swiss Federal Railroad)

How to Cite
Krueger, E., Schneider, A., Sawyer, B., Chavaillaz, A., Sonderegger, A., Groner, R., & Hancock, P. (2019). Microsaccades distinguish looking from seeing. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 12(6). https://doi.org/10.16910/jemr.12.6.2
Special Thematic Issue: „Microsaccades: Empirical Research and Methodological Advances“

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