Tobii Technology representative Amanda Hamhill (left) calibrates a tablet/smart phone eye-tracking device for Dr. Kirby Goidel (right), Director of LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab.
Tobii Technology representative Amanda Hamhill (left) calibrates a tablet/smart phone eye-tracking device for Dr. Kirby Goidel (right), Director of LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab.

By Ben Wallace | LSU Student

Eye-tracking may seem like just another way for advertisers to pick consumer's brains of their conscious and sub-conscious likes and dislikes, but for LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication it provides groundbreaking research as to what people focus one in today's clutter-filled world.

Representatives from Tobii Technology came to the school's Research Facility recently to present three new eye-tracking products to faculty and staff. The products included a device for mobile phones and tablets, wearable goggles, and a portable device, which can be clipped to laptops and desktops.

They range in price from about $29,000 to $70,000, including the $2,500 software needed to properly measure results.

Eye-tracking devices record what people look at using tiny cameras aimed at the pupil, measuring precisely where the eye is focusing at any given moment.

Each device works differently. Goggles record what people look at through cameras attached to the lenses. Stand-alone cameras can be set next to a desktop to record eye movements, as well.

The research facility currently owns two Tobii eye-tracking devices. Each stands about eight inches tall with a roughly two-inch diameter circular camera atop a thin, flexible shaft, something like modern lamps or the Pixar logo.

A research participant calibrates the device to the subject's vision by following a red dot across the four corners of the desktop computer screen. The participant looks at a slideshow of advertising images, while the eye-tracker records where, when and how long the pupil focuses on particular points. The researcher is able to watch the participant's "gaze point," which appears as a small red dot throughout the slideshow.

The goggles cost around $40,000 and allow for broader field-testing. Tobii representatives showed footage of a man wearing the eye-tracking goggles in a supermarket. The device recording his visual and audio (he talked to himself) decision-making process in purchasing trash bags.

Amanda Hamhill, an account manager of market research at Tobii, said eye movements reflect thought processes, which help give researchers a "deeper understanding" of the way consumers behave.

"We're not getting at the whole picture just by what the shopper says," said Hamhill. "Sometimes shoppers will post-rationalize and won't be able to explain."

Meghan Sanders, a Manship School assistant professor and mass communication researcher, said the devices are user-friendly with quick learning curves. Funding for new eye-trackers would come solely through university grants, she noted.

Local businesses, including WBRZ, have used the research facility to conduct their own research. Manship researchers conduct the study and present the results to the contracting businesses, which pay a fee.

Laura Crosswell, a third-year doctoral student at the Manship School, said she used the current eye-tracking technology to determine which characters on ABC's Modern Family were most-liked.

Not surprisingly, Gloria, played by Colombian actress and model Sofia Vergara, had the most "fixations" for both men and women.

Dan Rice, assistant professor of marketing at LSU, who observed the demonstration at the Manship School, said he is attempting purchase eye-tracking equipment for the E. J. Ourso College of Business, which has no such devices at present.