Seeing How Cars + People Grab Us

With eye tracking we can ‘see’ how humans take in the world. This biometric tool gives an inside view of our remarkable subliminal activity, including what’s really going on when we do something seemingly simple, like walking down a city street…revealing there’s much more going on in our bodies and brains than most realize. 

The following video shows data collected from volunteers wearing eye-tracking glasses as they walk down a street in Boston and view their surroundings.

Note the yellow dots and lines in the video (above); they reveal what eye tracking records—creating large yellow dots where the eye stops to focus, or fixate, with lines in between, or saccades, indicating motion between fixation points. Each image in the video shows eye tracking over a 10-second interval. Note how cars get so much attention; we focus on them. Our brain won’t let us do otherwise.

People also grab our attention. It is astonishing how much time we spend fixating on other folks—often without any conscious awareness or control. Seeing cars and people leads to something more—emotional arousal, a change in our subliminal internal state that can be monitored with another biometric tool called Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), which measures changes in electrical activity resulting from changes in sweat gland activity. The graphs beneath each image in this post charts GSR peaks, or the intensity of the arousal experience as we take in a place. Seeing a car, a person, or people, usually generates a peak.

When someone walks toward you and says your name (as what happened to the volunteer in the image above), the response is greater, causing larger peaks. At the end of the study (above) when one of the researchers touched the volunteer’s skin to remove the sensing monitor, the tallest blue peaks formed (at right).Biometric tools tell us a lot about ourselves, in real time, helping reveal the complexity of our animal nature. Interested in learning more or conducting similar research? Reach out to, the nonprofit that conducted this study; its mission is improving the understanding of the human experience of the built environment and improving its design through education and research. Here’s the email:

This entry was posted in Biology, Design, Eye Tracking, Walkability. Bookmark the permalink.

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