Ryan O. Murphy’s Homepagehttp://vlab.ethz.ch/ROM/DBGT/Homepage.html
Michael Schulte’s Homepagehttp://www.schulte-mecklenbeck.com

    A flashlight enables us to see a part of the world in the dark.  Our online research tool Flashlight uses this metaphor and is able to track attention to visual stimuli using a standard web browser. When a participant moves the mouse to inspect a stimulus on his computer, the tool Flashlight “uncovers” the area underneath the mouse cursor while recording the mouse position.  This tool mimics eye-tracking but does so without special equipment.  Flashlight offers a cost effective and rapid means of collecting data on how long, how often, and in what order a participant attends to different parts of visual stimuli. These real time data are very rich and amendable to sophisticated modeling, providing insights into not only what people choose but how they make choices.  Process data like this are of central importance in understanding psychological processes and can facilitate opening the black box of human cognition helping us better understand human decision making.

    Flashlight uses two layers for presenting a stimulus: on the bottom layer the actual stimulus (e.g., a picture of a decision task with different risky options) is stored.

On the top layer a blurred version of the same stimulus is stored and covers the original picture.

Whenever the mouse is moved, a pre-defined area around the mouse cursor (which can be adapted for different research questions) shows the bottom layer, i.e., the actual stimulus.

Flashlight records the mouse position (i.e. where the participant is looking at the stimuli) with a default resolution of 10Hz (10 measurements per second); the resolution can be increased to 20Hz-30Hz depending on available hardware, however 10Hz is sufficient for attention tracking. Below is an analysis of the gamble stimulus that is part of the demonstration. Red color indicates more attention (more time spent, more acquisitions), blue color indicates less attention (less time spent, fewer acquisitions).

    You can try it out with this online demonstration, or contact us to use Flashlight in your own research.

    You can also read more about this tool in the following paper:

  1. Schulte-Mecklenbeck, M., Murphy, R. O., & Hutzler, F. (2011). Flashlight: Recording information acquisition online. Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 1771-1782.  Download here.