Eye Tracking Methods: The Good, The Bad, and the Absurd

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An EPIC Talk with LAURA E. MATZEN and LAURA A. MCNAMARA, Sandia National Laboratories

March 6, 2018, 12:00–1:30pm PST
Free online event, pre-registration & EPIC Membership required

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Over the past decades, eye tracking systems have migrated out of their native laboratories into the wide world of applied consumer research. If you’ve never used an eye tracking system before, you might wonder what they’re good for and if it’s worth integrating eye tracking studies into any of your own work.

In this webinar, a cognitive neuroscientist (Matzen) and an organizational anthropologist (McNamara) draw on their own experience with eye tracking systems to provide a critical overview of eye tracking technologies and gaze measurement in applied research projects.   We’ll give you a brief overview of eye tracking technologies, including their history and application in vision science and cognitive psychology. We’ll explain what eye trackers actually measure and discuss how cognitive neuroscientists use these data when studying visual perception and cognition.

Our own adventures in eye tracking have taught us that what you get out of an eye tracking project depends very much on what you put into it. To that end, our webinar provides practical advice about what makes an eye tracker “good;” guidance for when to use an eye tracker (and when to figure out some other way to get your data); and helpful advice for setting up your own eye tracking study – trust us, never skip the pilot testing! Finally, we provide our own perspective on eye tracking snake oil, so that you can make informed decisions about the claimed power of eye trackers to reveal the hidden workings of the human mind.

We’ll illustrate the webinar with plenty of examples of our own eye tracking research, including ideas for using qualitative methods to enhance the validity of eye tracking research projects. We’ll also provide a list of references that we’ve found useful in our own research. And of course, bring your eye tracking questions—we’ll answer as many as we can in the time we’ve got available.


Laura Matzen is a Principal Member of the Technical Staff in the Cognitive Science and Systems department at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM. She received a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology with a concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008.  Her primary research interests lie in using cognitive neuroscience methods such as eye tracking and electroencephalography to understand how humans process and remember information while performing complex reasoning tasks.

Laura A. McNamara is an organizational anthropologist who has spent the past 20 years working in the US Department of Energy’s research laboratories. She began her career as a graduate student intern at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1997, where she wrote a dissertation on the impact of the 1989 test moratorium on the reproduction of expertise in the nuclear weapons programs. Since 2003, she has worked on problems related to human-information interaction, uncertainty, and decision-making at Sandia National Laboratories. Dr. McNamara is currently Distinguished Member of Technical Staff in Sandia’s synthetic aperture radar programs, where she helps engineers, software developers and computer scientists solve usability problems in the design and evaluation of information visualization, visual analytics, imagery analysis and radar operational software systems across a wide range of disciplines and domains.