Every year, more people search online dating sites to find their next Valentine. A new study shows that how you catch a potential date's eye might depend on your gender. Researchers used eye tracking technology to follow people's eye movements as they perused online profiles. The results show that men spend 65 percent more time looking at photos than women. Women, on the other hand, spent 50 percent more time than men actually reading the profiles.
AnswerLab, a consumer research company, ran the study in one day at a coffee shop in San Francisco, Calif. The study asked 39 patrons who identified themselves as interested in dating the opposite sex to take part in the study. Participants, 18 women and 21 men, looked at dating profiles from Match.com and eHarmony.com on a laptop.
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The researchers collected data using the Tobii X1 Light Eye Tracker, a new, portable model of eye tracker. The device works by shining an infrared light at the eye, creating reflections which are, in turn, recorded by a camera. Using the recorded pattern of reflections, the program calculates the angle between the cornea and pupil, which is used to calculate the angle of the gaze. Combining the angle of the gaze and the distance between the eyes and the screen leads to accurate tracking of the eye's movements.
Although you might not know it, your eyes are constantly moving, making quick adjustments to take in details. Only the very small, central portion of the eye, called the fovea, is capable of really seeing details. As you look at something complicated, like a dating profile, with different text elements, photos and advertisements, your eyes make rapid movements so the fovea can briefly focus on each of the different elements that catch your eye's attention. Each tiny focusing event is called a fixation.
Because the eyes make this tiny movement when we study objects or read, the eye-tracking systems can figure out what we looked at, precisely, and for how long. The image above shows the gaze fixations of a man in the first 10 seconds that he looked at the profile, which totalled more than 200 fixations.