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 Keeping an Eye out for Gender Differences

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Who detects moving objects best?


Duane Millslagle
Professor Duane Millslagle wearing the Eye Tracker hardware
Angela Pitan
Angela Pitan records the data from the day's testing

Exercise Science major Angela Pitan, along with professor and motor behavioral specialist Duane ‘Spike’ Millslagle want to determine whether men and women use different strategies when detecting moving objects. Recent national research indicates that men performed better than women in coincident anticipation timing (CAT) tests. One of the components of CAT tasks is the ability to track a moving ball in hitting. The intent of the study was to investigate whether or not differing strategies in visual tracking is the source of a CAT gender difference.

Pitan knew she wanted to do something with Millslagle after taking one of his courses. “I took Motor Learning and Development with Prof. Millslagle and liked the content.” After Pitan and Millslagle agreed on a research topic, they assembled a group of sixteen males and sixteen females, subjecting each to the same three tests.

In the past, eye tracking UROPs were hindered by the available technology. Older iterations of testing hardware required the test subject to be connected to a computer, hampering the subject’s mobility. The newest models of eye tracking hardware make it easy to test in the field, leading to more natural test conditions. Pitan’s UROP experimentation is quick and efficient, composed of only three short activities.

First comes a basic vision test. If the subject does not have perfect 20/20 vision, or have the proper corrective eyewear to make 20/20 vision, they cannot be used for the actual testing.

From there, the subject is brought to a device built by Millslagle himself 10 years ago. Named the Dynamic Visual Acuity apparatus (DVA), it determines the highest speed where one can accurately identify the details and location of a moving target. This point differs for every person, so it is important to get this data for each test subject. Measuring a subject’s DVA threshold defines fast and slow objects for the subject.

Each subject dons a pair of "Applied Science Laboratory Mobile Eye Tracker" glasses.  The glasses have the appearance of lab safety goggles, with a camera and scanner attached. The images from the camera are fed into a small display which looks like a portable DVD player. This monitor displays a red circle, which moves to track where the subject is looking based on the direction their eye moves. The glasses are very accurate, but must be calibrated to ensure that they are sending correct information. “Once, after configuring the glasses, a girl sneezed,” Pitan said. “It messed everything up.”       

The final test, using a Bassin Anticipation Timer, is a station that operates much like a carnival game: the subject is given a button and sat down opposite a long strip of light bulbs The machine will randomly light bulbs at a speed either slower or faster than the subject's eyes can normally process. They are told to press the button with the pointer finger of their non-dominant hand when the light reaches the last bulb on the machine.

Millslagle and Pitan began bringing subjects in for data collection for this project in September and finished in mid-October. The next phase of the projectwill be to code the data from the Bassin Anticipation Timer and import the information into an excel spreadsheet. Soon Millslagle and Pitan will know the answer; do men and women have different strategies in following moving objects?

Written by Zach Lunderberg, November 2011.

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Contact Cheryl Reitan creitan @d.umn.edu

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