Eye-tracking basically involves displaying words on a screen (with accompanying audio, in my case) and using infra red to trace participants' eye movements and fixations throughout. These are then stored as data in a nice cushy analysis software, which will generate reaction times, p values, averages, the lot. The technique can be used in myriad fields: marketing, (neuro)psychology, medicine, media, cognition, development and linguistics, and is easy to manipulate to different audiences as you can display pretty much any kind of media on there. I believe you can even track the eye movements of animals, but seeing how hard it is to get one-year-olds to focus for 3 minutes and 49 seconds, I imagine that calibrating a dog's eyes is only for those with the most solid determination.
|If only all my participants would behave like this.|
Running an experiment that is my own has given me the taste of project management that you don't often get in the workplace: the investment, wholeheartedness and obsessive pernicketyness is on a whole new level, and the sense of ownership is both scary and magical. Luckily for me, I am working with a team of PhD students who are astoundingly excellent, and they have shown me the ropes while also respecting the fact that the experiment is completely mine. I have learnt a whole world of new skills and knowledge in only 2 weeks, from input statistics to basic coding to rudimentary Swedish and essential childcare methods. Without them I would have (and just about did) flounder at the first hurdle, and even as I lead the project in its reality, I am still learning from them with each participant that comes my way.
So I am excited to be using eye-tracking. I'm excited to see my idea come to life, to have results as a result of my idea, and to lead something that will eventually (I hope) lead me. It's kind of fun working with babies too, as some of them are delightful, but I think it will take a lot of time for me to come round to being comfortable with them. To me, infants are exclusively interesting, and I'm not really bothered about studying adult language at all, so career-wise it has come as a rite of passage to actually work with real-life language learners. Whether or not this will translate into a full-blown turn from databases towards lab work I do not know; seven participants in and I can see that there is nothing less predictable than a one-year-old in an unfamiliar setting. I guess that if I liked predictable then I wouldn't have ever considered a return to academia. It has certainly been a challenging couple of weeks, with organising, setting up, arranging appointments (with thanks to my very helpful Swedish research assistant!), greeting, explaining, playing, distracting, analysing and endless processes of learning and re-thinking, but I feel a little bit stronger and a little bit smarter and oh so in need of a glass of wine!