University of Padova

Eye tracking and problem solving

Project Description

The ocular behaviour is a likely indicator of mental activity processes in goal-directed tasks that require encoding of visual information: in such conditions the locus of fixa-tions corresponds to the information being processed by the cognitive system. Starting from this assumption, we conducted an experiment focusing on eye behaviour during problem solving. The aim of our study was therefore to investigate how gaze behaviour of successful problem solvers differed compared to unsuccessful participants using fixation eye movements as indicator of the thinking processes.

Eye tracking problem solving Eye tracking problem solving
Work Description

We have designed a laboratory experiment to evaluate differences in ocular behaviour ‘between’ participants while they are trying to solve one of the classic problems used in problem-solving research, the Duncker’s candle problem. The Duncker’s candle pro-blem requires to attach a candle to the wall in a way it will still light on using only a candle, some matches and a box of nails. The solution is to mount the candle on the box by melting the wax onto the box and sticking the candle to it, then to tack the box to the wall. The difficulty of the candle problem is that participants are fixated on the box’s normal function of holding nails and do not re-conceptualize it as a candle-holder. We have recorded eye movements from 20 participants while they are watching an image reproducing the objects involved in the problem: the candle, some matches and the box containing the nails (see image above).

Eye tracking problem solving Eye tracking problem solving

10 participants successfully resolve the problem using in their solution the box as a candle-holder, the remaining 10 did not provided the correct answer and they were considered unsuccesfull. We measured the percentage of time spent by fixating each object on the total of fixation time that is the expression of the cognitive processing directed to the different elements of the problems. Our results yield to the conclusion that there is a difference in eye behaviour between successful and unsuccessful solvers. Participant who successfully solved the Duncker’s candle problem devoted more fixation time on the box area while unsuccessful solvers fixated more the candle area compared to the other elements (see images above). Moreover, we observed that these differences between eye behaviours of successful and unsuccessful solvers is statistically evident only in the last 30 second before participants provided the solution attempt. Our study support eye tracking as a ‘possible’ indicator of the thinking processes during problem solving and join a body of literature that demonstrate how fixation patterns correlate with solving success.

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