Eye tracking is a tool that is being used by researchers in wide range of fields and on subjects big and small. One field that has recognized the value of eye tracking technology as a research tool is child development. Much research is being conducted using eye trackers on infants because there is a possibility that the data collected on visual behavior in infants could potentially be used to diagnose social and developmental disorders. Researchers from the University of East London are attempting to use visual behavior studies to determine if future social, language, and attention disorders can be identified in the early stages of life.
Many past language development studies have been restricted to analyzing the speech patterns in children no younger than two years old. One of the benefits of using eye tracking for these types of studies is that the necessary data can be collected on infants as young as 6 months old. This means the results can potentially determine the possibility of a language difficulty existing even before the baby can speak. According to lead researcher, Professor Derek Moore, from the university’s Institute for Research in Child Development, “An estimated 1 in 10 of UK’s children are affected by language difficulties by the time they start school.” If these issues could be identified early on, intervention and professional speech therapy could be started before the child reaches school age.
The study being conducted at the University of East London will be a three year endeavor to explore how the subjects respond to images of speaking faces and moving objects displayed on a screen using a remote eye tracker to collect the eye movement data. The differences in the way babies respond to eye and mouth movements of other people may be an indication that a future problem may exist.
This study, and the many others being conducted using eye tracking technology, has the potential to help millions of children with learning and developmental disorders by signaling the need for early intervention to start as early as possible.