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Eye Movements While Watching Narrative Film: A Dissociation of Eye Movements and Comprehension

23.4043, Saturday, 16-May, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm, Pavilion
Session: Scene Perception: Coding and dynamics

John Hutson1, Tim Smith2, Joseph Magliano3, Grace Heidebrecht1, Thomas Hinkel1, Jia Li Tang1, Lester Loschky1; 1Psychological Science, Arts and Sciences, Kansas State University, 2Psychological Science, Arts and Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, 3Psychology, Arts and Sciences, Northern Illinois University

During reading there is a strong relationship between eye-movements and comprehension, but does this extend to the ubiquitous activity of watching movies? In four experiments we tested two competing hypotheses: H1) Mental Model: viewers’ narrative comprehension guides their visual attention, versus H2) Tyranny of Film: Attentional synchrony across viewers washes out comprehension-based differences in attention. We tested these hypotheses by manipulating comprehension through the presence/absence of context while participants watched a clip from “Touch of Evil” (Welles, 1958): the Context condition saw a bomb put in a car to begin the clip, which the No-context condition did not see. We measured comprehension by having participants predict what would happen next after watching the clip. Experiment 1 established a strong comprehension difference; only the Context condition predicted the car exploding. Experiment 2, which added eyetracking, replicated the comprehension difference, but found no differences in eye movements in either attentional synchrony or looking at the car. Experiments 3 and 4 altered the perceived protagonist of the clip by what was shown first: the Context condition still saw the bomb and car first (i.e., car passengers = protagonists), but the No-context began watching later, first seeing a couple walking (i.e., couple = protagonists) and the car temporarily off-screen. Experiment 3 again showed the comprehension difference and overall eye movement similarity; however, when the No-context condition later first saw the car, they looked at it less than the Context condition. Experiment 4 measured on-line comprehension by having participants press a button whenever they perceived a new event. Results showed large differences in comprehension—the No-context condition perceived more events—thus demonstrating substantial differences in comprehension using two qualitatively different measures. However, these comprehension differences minimally affected eye-movements, with one small difference when the protagonist was manipulated, thus generally supporting the Tyranny of Film hypothesis.

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