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Laura E. Thomas, Alejandro Lleras; Moving eyes and moving thought: The spatial compatibility between eye movements and cognition. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):871. doi: 10.1167/6.6.871.
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In a recent study, Grant and Spivey (2003) proposed that eye movement trajectories can implicitly impact cognition. In an “insight” problem-solving task, participants whose gaze moved in trajectories reflecting the spatial constraints of the problem's solution were more likely to solve the problem. The authors proposed that perceptual manipulations to the problem diagram that influence eye movement trajectories during inspection would indirectly impact the likelihood of successful problem solving by way of this implicit eye-movement-to-cognition link. However, when testing this claim, Grant and Spivey failed to record eye movements and simply assumed that their perceptual manipulations successfully produced eye movement trajectories compatible with the problem's solution. Our goal was to directly test their claim by asking participants to perform an insight problem-solving task under free-viewing conditions while occasionally guiding their eye movements (via an unrelated tracking task) in either a pattern suggesting the problem's solution (related group) or in patterns that were unrelated to the solution (unrelated group). Eye movements were recorded throughout the experiment. Although participants reported that they were not aware of any relationship between the tracking task and the insight problem, the rate of successful problem solving was higher in the related than in the unrelated group, in spite of there being no scanning differences between groups during the free-viewing intervals. This experiment provides strong support for Grant and Spivey's claim that in spatial tasks, cognition can be “guided” by the patterns in which we move our eyes around the scene.
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