Mind-Wandering Detector Developed: Eye Tracker Detects Focus of Attention

Mind-wandering detector software has been developed that can detect a person’s focus of attention based on measurements with an eye tracker. The assumption is that whatever the eye is focused on indicates the mind’s focus of attention. If one is daydreaming, then the eyes will wander or fail to follow an expected pattern of movement given a particular task, like reading. Eye tracking devices have been in existence for a while and have been used extensively in vision research. Measuring eye movements in order to watch the meanderings of the mind is a new application for these eye tracking devices.

Since eye trackers are usually used to observe eye movements in vision experiments, the computer software that works with the device in a research setting is relatively simple and the eye movements that are detected are simply recorded for future analysis. In this new development, the software can detect when the eyes are not focused or moving correctly given a certain task and then the software will cause the computer to create a signal indicating that the focus of attention is off the mark. For example, if someone starts to daydream rather than reading the words on a computer screen, then a bell will ring to “wake them up” and get them working again.

One of the applications that is being considered for this mind-wandering detection system is in air traffic control. This eye tracking and mind-wandering detection system would be able to analyze the eye movements of the air traffic controllers to make sure they are awake and alert and are watching the computer screen as they should be to look for airplanes. The development of military applications is also a possibility. Any job that requires focused attention without “zoning out” would be a place where the new mind-wandering detection device could be used. When zoning out is detected, the system can notify the user, pause the work session, highlight some content on a computer screen or display some missed content to be reconsidered.

This eye tracking mind-wandering detector can also be used in academic settings. Children in schools could be hooked up with eye tracking devices so that the teacher knows what they are looking at, and presumably what they are thinking about, during class time. This newly developed system can be designed to initiate an intervention when it detects a student’s wandering mind.

The system to detect mind-wandering from a focus of attention using an eye tracker will be presented at the 22nd Conference on User Modelling, Adaptation and Personalization (UMAP) to be held in Aalborg, Denmark July 7-11, 2014. UMAP is an international conference for people who are working on systems that adapt to individual users or groups of users. The conference topics focus on user personalization in the era of big data, social data and pervasive computing. It is expected that a publication describing this new mind-wandering detection software will be forthcoming after the conference presentation, which is what commonly happens after major scientific conferences. The imagination can run wild thinking about potential uses for this device, unless of course one is wired up with the system running.

By Margaret Lutze

UMAP Conference 2014
New Scientist
New Scientist

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