The area-of-interest problem in eyetracking research: A noise-robust solution for face and sparse stimuli

  • Hessels R
  • Kemner C
  • van den Boomen C
 et al. 
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A problem in eyetracking research is choosing areas of interest (AOIs): Researchers in the same field often use widely varying AOIs for similar stimuli, making cross-study comparisons difficult or even impossible. Subjective choices while choosing AOIs cause differences in AOI shape, size, and location. On the other hand, not many guidelines for constructing AOIs, or comparisons between AOI-production methods, are available. In the present study, we addressed this gap by comparing AOI-production methods in face stimuli, using data collected with infants and adults (with autism spectrum disorder [ASD] and matched controls). Specifically, we report that the attention-attracting and attention-maintaining capacities of AOIs differ between AOI-production methods, and that this matters for statistical comparisons in one of three groups investigated (the ASD group). In addition, we investigated the relation between AOI size and an AOI's attention-attracting and attention-maintaining capacities, as well as the consequences for statistical analyses, and report that adopting large AOIs solves the problem of statistical differences between the AOI methods. Finally, we tested AOI-production methods for their robustness to noise, and report that large AOIs-using the Voronoi tessellation method or the limited-radius Voronoi tessellation method with large radii-are most robust to noise. We conclude that large AOIs are a noise-robust solution in face stimuli and, when implemented using the Voronoi method, are the most objective of the researcher-defined AOIs. Adopting Voronoi AOIs in face-scanning research should allow better between-group and cross-study comparisons.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Areas of interest
  • Eyetracking
  • Faces
  • Sparse stimuli

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  • Roy S. Hessels

  • Chantal Kemner

  • Carlijn van den Boomen

  • Ignace T.C. Hooge

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