You get up out of your chair, and your dog is watching you. Are you going to feed him or take him for a walk? He studies your every move.
What is he looking at? Is he watching your hands to see if you’re reaching for the leash, or your eyes to see where you’re looking? Does he look over at his dog bowl or at the door?
And what happens if you take him for a walk and he sees a female dog? Does he look at her the same way we would?
According to this week’s Science magazine, a team of U.S., Dutch, and Belgian researchers have developed an eye tracking device called a “DogCam” to see what a dog actually looks at when it studies the subtle cues of its owner and its surroundings.
Graduate student Alejandra Rossi at Indiana University in Bloomington says the wireless device uses three cameras: one to capture the dog’s eye view of the world, and two others to track where each eye is looking within that visual field.
Other scientists are conducting eye tracking studies to try to understand how the visual behavior of chimpanzees differs from that of humans. One early observation is that humans tend to look more at faces, while chimps look more at other parts of the body.
So if we know where dogs or apes are looking, can we tell what they're thinking? Not yet, unless we can add further lines of evidence, such as a simultaneous brain scan. The ability to infer cognitive states in non-human animals based on eye tracking data alone is still a rather uncertain prospect. But I'd love to take a dog with an Eye Cam into an art museum...
Courtesy of Science magazine and Indiana University’s cognitive science program.
Chimp vs. Human scanpaths courtesy Kyoto University
Eye tracking studies in comparative cognitive science