Please answer the following questions: What are the colours of Spider-Man’s costume? Does the Prime Minister of Sweden wear glasses? In what direction is the Turning Torso tower in Malmö, Sweden, twisted? Which has darker leaves, an oak or a maple? To perform that task you probably engaged in mental imagery, visualising what Spider-Man, the Prime Minister, the Turning Torso tower and the leaves of an oak and a maple looked like with your “mind’s eye”. This process, where we form mental images of objects, people and scenes from memory, is the focus of our research in the LUCS mental imagery group.
Now, instead of visualising something yourself, tell a friend to imagine her home and then ask her how many windows there are. If you look at her eyes while she is performing this task, you will probably see them moving as she is mentally “counting” windows. This phenomenon – that eye movements can be used as a direct behavioural correlate of humans’ internal shifts of attention when visualising objects and scenes – is the specific target of our mental imagery research.
Accordingly, we use eye tracking as a method to study this phenomenon. Eye-tracking data can tell us where one looked, when it occurred and for how long it occurred.
This information provides invaluable insight into visual cognition. But it is not possible to pinpoint the exact identity of the cognitive processes involved. Therefore, as a way to identify them, or at least to come closer to doing so, we have developed an experimental paradigm where we combine eye-movement data with verbal data.
Example of eye movement patterns for one and the same person after she has inspected a picture (left) and after she has orally described the same picture looking at a blank screen (right).
Johansson, R., Holsanova, J., Dewhurst, R., & Holmqvist, K. (2012). Eye movements during scene recollection have a functional role, but they are not reinstatements of those produced during encoding. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, 38(5), 1289-1314.
Johansson, R., Holsanova, J., & Holmqvist, K. (2011). The dispersion of eye movements during visual imagery is related to individual differences in spatial imagery ability. In L. Carlson, C. Hölscher, & T. Shipley (Eds.), Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1200-1205). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.
Johansson, R., Holsanova, J., & Holmqvist, K. (2010). Eye movements during mental imagery are not reenactments of perception. In: Ohlsson, Stellan & Catrambone, Richard (Eds.), Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1968-1973). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.
Johansson, R., Holsanova, J., & Holmqvist, K. (2006). Pictures and Spoken Descriptions Elicit Similar Eye Movements During Mental Imagery, Both in Light and in Complete Darkness. Cognitive Science, 30:6, 1053–1079.
Johansson, R., Holsanova, J., & Holmqvist, K. (2005). What Do Eye Movements Reveal About Mental Imagery? Evidence From Visual And Verbal Elicitations. Proceedings of the 27th Cognitive Science Conference, Stresa, Italy.
Holsanova, J., Hedberg, B., & Nilsson, N. (1999). Visual and Verbal Focus Patterns when Describing Pictures. In Becker, Deubel & Mergner (Eds.), Current Oculomotor Research: Physiological and Psychological Aspects. Plenum: New York, London, Moscow.