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20-02-2018 | Original Article | Uitgave 1/2020

Psychological Research 1/2020

The right look for the job: decoding cognitive processes involved in the task from spatial eye-movement patterns

Psychological Research > Uitgave 1/2020
Magdalena Ewa Król, Michał Król
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-018-0996-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


The aim of the study was not only to demonstrate whether eye-movement-based task decoding was possible but also to investigate whether eye-movement patterns can be used to identify cognitive processes behind the tasks. We compared eye-movement patterns elicited under different task conditions, with tasks differing systematically with regard to the types of cognitive processes involved in solving them. We used four tasks, differing along two dimensions: spatial (global vs. local) processing (Navon, Cognit Psychol, 9(3):353–383 1977) and semantic (deep vs. shallow) processing (Craik and Lockhart, J Verbal Learn Verbal Behav, 11(6):671–684 1972). We used eye-movement patterns obtained from two time periods: fixation cross preceding the target stimulus and the target stimulus. We found significant effects of both spatial and semantic processing, but in case of the latter, the effect might be an artefact of insufficient task control. We found above chance task classification accuracy for both time periods: 51.4% for the period of stimulus presentation and 34.8% for the period of fixation cross presentation. Therefore, we show that task can be to some extent decoded from the preparatory eye-movements before the stimulus is displayed. This suggests that anticipatory eye-movements reflect the visual scanning strategy employed for the task at hand. Finally, this study also demonstrates that decoding is possible even from very scant eye-movement data similar to Coco and Keller, J Vis 14(3):11–11 (2014). This means that task decoding is not limited to tasks that naturally take longer to perform and yield multi-second eye-movement recordings.

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