Title:Evaluating the Practical Applications of Eye Tracking in Museums
Authors:Robert Stein, Ed Bachta, Silvia Filippini Fantoni, Tiffany Leason
Publication:MW2012: Museums and the Web 2012

Museum professionals spend a significant amount of time studying the ways that visitors engage with objects in their collections to improve the quality of interaction with them. Focus groups at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and elsewhere indicate that visitors see art museums as places for "inspiration" and "contemplation;" however,  visitors are observed to spend very little time actually looking at art. Obtaining a more concrete understanding of what aspects of a visit are found to be inspiring, and how museums can actively promote and encourage those experiences remain some of the field's biggest challenges. In thinking creatively as to how to address these problems, the authors began to explore whether recent advances in eye tracking technology might hold some answers.

Techniques for measuring gaze have been an important part of cognitive psychology since the early 1960's. Environmental scans by Rayner (1998) summarize the scope and evolution of research linking eye tracking and cognition. Agreement in the research suggests that gaze and attention are tightly coupled (Hoffman 98) implying a direct relationship between the way we look at museum objects and our thinking about them. Research by Wooding (2002) examines the use of eye tracking systems and art from the collection of the National Gallery in London. While the data seems promising, Wooding's work focused more on a generalized method for visualizing eye tracking data and not on specific applications of these techniques for art history or museology.  Milekic (2010) published an overview of gaze tracking and its potential applications for museums, highlighting the coming advent of cheap and commercially available equipment to support the use of these tools in a museum setting.

Funded by an IMLS Sparks! Ignition grant, the Indianapolis Museum of Art is exploring whether or not eye tracking technology can be useful to museums seeking to better understand how in-gallery visitors actually "see" the objects in our collection.  Through a set of three experiments, the project seeks to understand whether eye tracking can be used to measure visitor attention to artworks, understand the correlation between guided interpretation and visitor comprehension, and to trigger interpretive content delivery. In this paper, authors will review the relevant literature in the field that connects gaze detection and cognition; explain in detail the experimental methodology used to determine the practicality of adopting these techniques in museums; and report in initial conditions and factors discovered during the project's initial research.


Rayner, K. (1998). Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research. Psychological Bulletin.

Hoffman, J. E. (1998). Visual attention and eye movements. In H. Pashler (ed.), Attention (pp. 119-154). Hove, UK: Psychology Press

Wooding, D. (2002). Fixation maps: quantifying eye-movement traces. In Proceedings of the 2002 symposium on Eye tracking research & applications (ETRA '02). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 31-36.

Milekic, S., Gaze-Tracking and Museums: Current Research and Implications. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted September 28, 2011.