Power of a Gaze

Mindset Digital
Mindset Digital // May 30, 2012

An eye-tracking study of Pinterest users in Mashable yesterday offered several important findings, but I’d like to zero in on one that has changed how I think about using pictures of people in everything from Powerpoint slides to Facebook to website design.

First, follow the path traced by the eyes of subjects in the study.

Source: Mashable

The “eyes” have it

Now, focus first and second pictures viewed. Does it really make sense that a shoe is more attention grabbing picture than any other picture shown? I mean, it’s a nice shoe and all, but it’s not what I would have picked for second most interesting picture.

The explanation (for my money) starts with the woman in the black dress. Notice how her head is slightly turned? The angle of her gaze is directly as the shoe. Scientific studies have documented we are drawn to answer the question: “What is she (or he) looking at?” (In fact, the effect is so powerful, even dogs do it!)

Gaze can even direct our attention to text. A test by James Breeze at UsableWorld.com.au offers this powerful illustration. This is a “heat map” – the darker the shading, the longer the viewer’s eyes lingered on that part of the page.

Option A: In this version, the baby’s face attracts the most attention by far.

In a face vs text competition for attention, there's little contest

Source: UsableWorld

Option B: When the baby looks at the text, so do you.

What a clear difference in the attention given to the words

Source: UsableWorld 

This holds true on Facebook too. After faces, where’s the attention focused in this study of Good Morning America’s Facebook Timeline? Answer: At the center of the gaze of all the people in the picture.

Source: Mashable

Have you intentionally used gaze in a image to direct viewers? Where could you see this tactic being most useful?


For the full write-up of EyeTrackShop’s work for Mashable on Pinterest head to this link or here for their work on Facebook.

We’ve only pulled one of several important lessons out of James Breeze’s post at UsableWorld, don’t miss the rest.

For the science on gazes and attention, I get to introduce two of my favorite writers. John Timmer covers humans watching humans while Ed Yong steps into a dog’s shoes. (Would that be paws?)