Visual perception is virtually effortless, operating at a level below conscious experience. Because it most frequently operates without attentive intervention, it does not yield to introspective report. The foveal/peripheral distribution of photoreceptor density in the human eye requires a mechanism to rapidly re-target areas in the environment for visual inspection. The eyes are moved both toward areas where high-acuity, central vision is required and toward objects of interest to the current task. Monitoring those eye movements can provide a window into perception. Subjects’ eye movements were monitored while they performed the familiar, complex task of hand-washing. Analysis revealed a novel perceptual strategy, in which objects of future interaction were foveated seconds before the information was “needed” for a task. These lookahead fixations are task-dependent; while they occurred in over 3% of fixations in the hand-washing task, their frequency fell to less than 1% in a control experiment. We propose that the look-ahead fixations represent a strategic deployment of attentional and visual resources to optimize information gathering during natural tasks.
Date of creation, presentation, or exhibit
Department, Program, or Center
Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science (COS)
Pelz, Jeff; Canosa, Roxanne; Babcock, Jason; and Barber, Jenn, "Visual perception in familiar, complex tasks" (2001). Accessed from
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