I have found this article on the psychology of UX, and at the 10. bullet point the article points out the following statement!


"Research shows that people use peripheral vision to get the "gist" of what they are looking at. Eye tracking studies are interesting, but just because someone is looking at something straight on doesn't mean they are paying attention to it." - what research, because there is no link

Do you have any evidence of this? Or have you ever studied/examined/researched in this topic?


I think that the eye tracker results can be explained by Don Norman's book Emotional Design, where he speaks of the three aspects of design: visceral, behavioral and reflexive.

A good example is car driving: when you're learning, it's behavioral. You are being very careful of when and how you apply the brakes, both of your hands are firmly on the steering wheel, and you pay extra attention to signal lights. When you become an expert driver, your driving becomes reflexive: you know instinctively where the pedals are, and you can make a right turn as easily as you walk down the street. You are now able to change the FM station while driving, talk on your mobile phone or with a passenger, etc.

Web surfing starts behavioral and becomes reflexive. At first, you pay attention to everything on a web page, but then you get used to certain standards and you start surfing reflexively. That's why following certain standards is very important. I will bet that the developer that @Steve showed his website to was expecting a "call to action" button like one of these:

enter image description here

So he completely missed the text-based "Try it now" link because... it simply doesn't look like a button or even a link. It looks more like a headline. Making it bigger is not going to help because it will then look like, well, a bigger headline! At the reflexive level, it doesn't work. In fact, when I clicked on regexhero.net, my eyes were first attracted to the "Buy Regex Hero Professional" link because that looked more like a button:

enter image description here

  • 1
    Nice. Well designed and well placed call to action buttons are definitely effective. And you did a good job of addressing the question I think. Google Analytics has always shown very high conversion rates on Regex Hero, where people are clicking the try it now link. So I've never changed it. But it could always be better, and now I'm inspired to create a little A/B test out of it. – Steve Wortham Feb 15 '11 at 19:38
  • I'd be very curious to see the results of an A/B test when you have them. – Hisham Feb 17 '11 at 2:07
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    @Hisham - A high-confidence winner was found rather quickly. I let the test run for an extra 24 hours to be sure. In the end, Google Optimizer estimates a 47% improvement with the button. So I stopped the experiment and made the change. Thanks for the tip, man. – Steve Wortham Feb 17 '11 at 18:26
  • My pleasure. :-) – Hisham Feb 17 '11 at 18:36
  • @Hisham - I couldn't leave well enough alone. I redesigned the home page again, made it a little more comical while retaining the button. I haven't set up a test for this design, but I don't think it could hurt... regexhero.net – Steve Wortham Feb 17 '11 at 22:04

It seems the authors are making an implicit reference to the eye-mind hypothesis (see Google Scholar for literature references). In short, this means we can't assume that just because someone is looking at something they are paying attention to it -- this is why you need to set specific tasks in eye-tracking.

In terms of peripheral vision, the structure of the eye means that we can only attend to a small area of the screen -- about 5 degrees of visual angle at arms length. You can find more information by searching for fovea and visual acuity.

alt text

Image from Wikipedia: Fovea centralis


I can only reference a specific case of this.

I was showing a developer my site at regexhero.net and expected him to try out the app. The homepage design then was the same as it is now. There's a giant "Try it now" link that's left/center. It's bigger than any other element on the page. And yet, even though he was staring right at it, he didn't really read it and didn't know where to click.

He then told me that he has a problem with text. He skims, as most people do. But it's a rather extreme case. He'll tend to look for graphic elements, icons, etc, before actually reading anything.

  • Some people are now the opposite way though: They'll treat anything that's too big and obvious as an ad, and skim right past it without bothering to think about what they're looking at. – ehdv Feb 15 '11 at 19:24

I have found an article on the topic finally: http://whatmakesthemclick.net/2010/01/23/

and here's the detailed research: http://journalofvision.org/content/9/10/6.full.pdf+html




Way more complex than you think, this ^^^ All this suggests is that fovea and peripheral vision perform different functions when an individual assimilates information about a scene, it tells you nothing about the direction of travel or gaze plot behaviour. The correlation between peripheral attention and foveal attention is a function of radius from the tracking centre; a peripheral gaze plot would == normal gaze plot + larger plot radius.

Maybe you could test users with a foveal block to assess the degree with which the gist of a website contributes to certain metrics such as recognition/recollection etc? You would have to do this across a number of websites and look to see if some websites perform better than others and what layout decisions have been made that cause these differences. Caveat: you couldn't complare the gaze plots to a normal eye track because the behaviour of the users would be quite different...


http://fivesecondtest.com/ I think this is perhaps a good proxy for how effective a site is at communicating its gist; one simply does not have enough time to fixate on anything for any great length of time?

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