E. Tim Holmes – Attention Tracking Technology

This piece is an interview with Tim Holmes, Professor of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London. It addresses Holmes research on new developments in attention-tracking technology.

  • “My PhD was […] looking at trying to use the patterns of eye movement that people make when they’re making preference decisions, and then using those to influence an evolutionary algorithm, which is a machine learning algorithm.”

  • “You have a very limited area of the visual scene that is processed with high visual acuity. So if you want to look at something in very sharp detail, the area that you have is approximately two degrees of visual angle.”

  • “We talk about top-down attention and bottom-up attention.”

  • “This is another process that we call attentional modulation, and this is where basically the properties of something can actually inhibit parts of the visual scene.”

  • “With memory, the more connections you have to a particular piece of information, the easier it is to retrieve that piece of information.”

  • “Fixations can be any length of time, probably, over about thirty to forty milliseconds, but in order for us perceptually be able to process it, they probably need to crossover sort of like sixty, seventy milliseconds or more before you stand any chance of being able to be aware of the fact that you’ve actually stopped moving the eye.”

  • “The question about how we divide attention across these multiple inputs is an interesting question but its one that we’re still actually trying to get our head around a little bit. It is a fairly recent phenomenon, right, that we would actually be trying to do multiple things at the same time.”

  • “The actual technique of eye-tracking […], we’re still looking at patterns of reflected light. However, typically what we’re looking for is reflections that we can detect on the eye itself when we shine a beam into the eye.”

  • “When research is done, we’ve normally used a combination of attention and maybe self-report, but also, these days we can use other measures as well. We can use things like heart rate and galvanic skin response, and even EEG…”

  • “The motivation for that is that when you see something that you like, something that you think is beautiful and so on, that actually there’s a chemical change that occurs in the brain. There are opiates released and you actually do feel good from seeing something that you like.”

  • “One of the joys of eye-tracking research is that it is so unobtrusive […] it doesn’t affect people’s behavior, as with […] your mouseclicks. Who has access to that information, and how they interpret that information, is a big issue.”

  • “The moment the visual input starts to get more similar, that increases the likelihood that something else will pull our attention.”

  • “I think there is huge potential for technology to be integrated in public spaces, not just from a marketing perspective, but from an information-giving perspective, too, and […] encouraging people to interact with a space, to interact with a building, to give feedback on it, to respond to the building itself.”



Griffin Ofiesh

Issue Editor

Joseph Bedford


Joseph Bedford

Founding Editor

Joseph Bedford


Alastair Stokes


Tim Holmes, (Royal Holloway, University of London)


Joseph Bedford


Royal Holloway University, London