Watch where you look – it can be used to predict what you'll say. A new study shows that it is possible to guess what sentences people will use to describe a scene by tracking their eye movements.
Moreno Coco and Frank Keller at the University of Edinburgh, UK, presented 24 volunteers with a series of photo-realistic images depicting indoor scenes such as a hotel reception. They then tracked the sequence of objects that each volunteer looked at after being asked to describe what they saw.
Other than being prompted with a keyword, such as "man" or "suitcase", participants were free to describe the scene however they liked. Some typical sentences included "the man is standing in the reception of a hotel" or "the suitcase is on the floor".
The order in which a participant's gaze settled on objects in each scene tended to mirror the order of nouns in the sentence used to describe it. "We were surprised there was such a close correlation," says Keller. Given that multiple cognitive processes are involved in sentence formation, Coco says "it is remarkable to find evidence of similarity between speech and visual attention".