People are unable to recognize or report on their own eye movements

Alasdair D. F. Clarke, Aoife Mahon, Alex Irvine, Amelia R. Hunt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
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Each eye movement we make brings new information into our visual system. The selection of each fixation is the result of a complex interplay of image features, current task goals, and biases in motor control and perception. To what extent are we aware of the selection of eye movements and their visual consequences? Here we use a converging methods approach to answer this question in three diverse experiments. In Experiment 1, participants were directed to find a target in a complex scene by a verbal description of it. We then presented the path the eyes took to find the target together with those of another participant. Participants could only identify their own path when the comparison scanpath was searching for a different target. In Experiment 2, participants viewed a scene for three seconds and then named some objects from the scene. When asked whether they had looked directly at a given object, participants’ responses were primarily determined by whether or not the object had been named, and not by whether it had been fixated. In Experiment 3, participants executed eye movements towards single targets, and then viewed an animated replay of either the eye movement they just executed, or that of someone else. Participants were at chance to identify their own eye movement, even when it contained large under- and overshoot corrections. The consistent inability to report on oneâAZs own eye movements across experiments suggests awareness of eye movements is extremely impoverished or altogether absent. This is surprising given that information about prior eye movements is clearly used during visual search, motor error correction, and learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2251–2270
Number of pages20
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number11
Early online date13 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • eye movements
  • awareness
  • visual search


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