Child playing with puzzle pieces

Developmental psychology

Studying children with the help of eye tracking

Gaze is one of the first abilities infants develop, providing researchers with insight into the development process long before speaking begins.

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Why use eye tracking?

The challenge is to study infants and small children who typically have short attention spans, cannot sit for long periods, and do not yet understand instructions. Eye tracking overcomes this challenge because it is a non-invasive technology that can extract data about an infant's gaze behavior accurately and rapidly without instructions. It provides developmental researchers with a means to enter the child's mind and determine when capabilities emerge and how they develop over time — even for babies only a few months old.

Girl reading on Tobii Pro Spectrum

What you can measure with eye tracking

Eye tracking solutions with a dedicated application, like our software Tobii Pro Lab, can further process the data to draw valuable conclusions on a wide variety of developmental processes, including:

  • Visual perception
  • Development of control of action
  • Social cognition and interaction
  • Oculomotor function development
  • Language acquisition
  • Clinical developmental research in areas such as early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and ADHD

What you can study with eye tracking data

There are many ways to leverage eye tracking data in developmental research:

  • Allocation of visual attention shows how a child assesses facial expressions, their ability to apply understanding and recall, and other relevant processes in the first stages of life. 

  • Anticipatory eye movements show a child's ability to predict events. They can, for example, reveal knowledge about structural or perceptual completion.

  • Pupil dilation measures a child's arousal and violation of expectations.

  • Smooth pursuit tests help to understand oculomotor development, such as object-tracking ability.

Infant research using Tobii Pro Spectrum

Research setups for infant and child studies

Tobii Pro Spectrum

Screen-based for the lab

For lab environments, our screen-based eye trackers, Tobii Pro Spectrum and Tobii Pro Fusion, produce visual stimuli on a screen and work together with Tobii Pro Lab to deliver insights on study participant reactions.

Boy learning in a classroom with Tobii Pro Fusion eye tracking

Screen-based for the field

You can connect the plug-and-play Tobii Pro Fusion eye tracker to any screen at a school, hospital, or library to collect data in the field in a nonintrusive way. Works together with Tobii Pro Lab to deliver insights on behavior.

Baby looking at puppets using Spectrum

Standalone for the lab

With Tobii Pro Spectrum in standalone mode, data capture can take place while children observe or interact with people and physical objects. Works together with Tobii Pro Lab to deliver insights on behavior.

Tobii Pro Glasses 3

Wearable for the real world

Designed for on-the-go data capture, our Tobii Pro Glasses 3 wearable eye tracker (suitable for 5+ years) allows children to interact and move around freely, enabling you to design studies that closely reflect real-world scenarios — for the lab and the field.

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Screen-based eye tracker, capturing gaze data at speeds up to 250 Hz. This powerful research system supports from fixation to saccade-based research outside of the lab.

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Tobii Pro Spark is our new entry-level research eye tracker, offering attention data and powerful insights to more researchers across the world.

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Eye tracking and developmental research

Infants’ attention bias to faces as an early marker of social development

For this longitudinal study, Peltola and colleagues (2018) used a screen-based eye tracker to investigate attentional biases toward faces in 7-month-old infants and the correlation with empathy and helping responses as the child develops. The researchers used a face-distractor competition paradigm, concluding that increased facial attention at seven months relates to raised helping responses at 24 months and reduced callous-unemotional traits at 48 months.

Children learn words easier when they are interested in the category to which the word belongs

Ackermann and colleagues (2019) examined how a child's interest in a particular category of objects — such as animals or vehicles — impacts learning robustness of new word-object associations. They used pupillometry measurements to determine the level of interest in categories and objects and proportion-of-gaze time to target and measure word recognition.

Social interaction targets enhance 13-month-old infants' associative learning

Thiele and colleagues (2020) studied selective learning in 13-month-old infants. Using screen-based eye tracking, the researchers identified faster saccadic latencies and more predictive gaze shifts in trials that included social interaction compared with those that didn’t. These findings support the view that infants find it intrinsically valuable to observe social interactions.

Enabling success

Tobii offers tailored support to address research needs throughout your journey with Tobii’s eye tracking.

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Tobii Funding support services

Tobii Funding support services help you improve your grant proposals for research that includes eye tracking in its methodology

Tobii Connect

Tobii Connect

Tobii Connect delivers product documentation, how-to guides, and answers to FAQs as well as access to software updates. Our customer care services help with any technical issues concerning Tobii products.

Tobii Academy

Tobii Academy

Tobii Academy our online learning platform, helping you ensure study success at every step of the way from study design to interpreting your eye tracking data.

Publications

Shinya, Yuta, Masahiko Kawai, Fusako Niwa, Yasuhiro Kanakogi, Masahiro Imafuku, and Masako Myowa. "Cognitive flexibility in 12-month-old preterm and term infants is associated with neurobehavioural development in 18-month-olds." Scientific reports (2022).

Michel, Christine, Sabina Pauen, and Stefanie Hoehl. "When it pays off to take a look: Infants learn to follow an object’s motion with their gaze—Especially if it features eyes." Infancy (2022).

Senzaki, Sawa, and Yuki Shimizu. "Different types of focus: Caregiver–child interaction and changes in preschool children’s attention in two cultures." Child Development (2022).

Jackson, Iain R., and Sylvain Sirois. "But that’s possible! Infants, pupils, and impossible events." Infant Behavior and Development (2022).

Arias-Trejo, Natalia, Armando Q. Angulo-Chavira, Daniela S. Avila-Varela, Fernanda Chua-Rodriguez, and Nivedita Mani. "Developmental changes in phonological and semantic priming effects in Spanish-speaking toddlers." Developmental Psychology (2022).