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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Dr Isabelle Mareschal conducts experiments with Science Museum visitors

Londoners are notorious for avoiding eye contact with each other but how bad are we really? That’s one of the things visitors to the Science Museum can currently help to find out if they take part in an experiment being run by QMUL and UCL researchers to learn how long people can comfortably make eye contact with someone else.


The project started, which started on 10 November and runs until 13 December, asks visitors to the Museum’s ‘Who Am I?’ gallery can take part in eye tracking experiments led by Professor Alan Johnston, Professor of Psychology at UCL and Dr Isabelle Mareschal, a lecturer from Queen Mary University of London’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, as part of the Live Science project.

Dr Mareschal explains the experiment, “We’re working with visitors to determine why people find making mutual eye contact uncomfortable when it lasts too long, or not long enough. Using the eye trackers participants will get to see how they look at other people's faces and find out if they like to make eye contact for longer or shorter than average

Participants are asked to watch and rate a series of video clips. In the clips a person looks directly at the participants for different lengths of time. Eye-tracking equipment is used to record eye movements to examine how participants look at other people’s faces.

“Everyone has been very interested. Participants get to see how they have performed on the task after they are done. We show them which parts of the face they looked at the most when they were judging whether eye contact was comfortable and we also tell them how long they like to make eye contact for.”

Over 500 visitors have already been tested with more expected take part before the experiment finishes on Saturday 13 December 2014 and the researchers are looking forward to starting to analyse the data.

Professor Johnston said, “Although there are many studies on how we judge whether someone is looking at us, there is very little known about timing, even though how long someone looks at you is just as important as whether they are looking at you. This study will allow us to work out what mutual gaze duration people are most comfortable with.”

The Live Science programme invites scientists to the museum to use members of the public as test subjects and give the general public a chance to be a part of real scientific research.

Georgeenia Ariaratnam, Science Museum, said, “Live Science provides a fantastic opportunity for our visitors to engage with real scientists and get involved with intriguing and fascinating experiments like this eye tracking research


The “How Long Do You Look?” experiment is open in the Who Am I? gallery at the Science Museum every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday 11:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:30 from Monday 10 November until Saturday 13 December. Entry is free. More information can be found on the Science Museum website.



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