Science

Eye Tracking

I recently read this interesting study on where people tend to look when viewing an article online. It was conducted using eyetracking, which I immediately thought must involve frightening ocular implants straight out of a future dystopia. Fifteen seconds of Googling later, I realized it is simply done using a video camera placed below a computer monitor that locks onto a subject’s gaze and follows it, matching it to what is being shown on the screen. Pretty nifty.

The study resulted in some good advice for graphic designers looking to improve the way their audience uses a web site, but of course the thing everyone keeps talking about is the surprising finding that when shown a photo of a baseball player at bat, women will invariably focus on the head while men will focus on the . . . the other head. I don’t mean a glance or two — I mean a good, long, (longing?) gaze.

I wasn’t planning to mention all this here, but this morning my coworker told me a good story. He was in the gym below our office, toweling off after a shower, when the CEO walked up to him stark naked and began a conversation. This is actually the second time it has happened, so my coworker was at least partially mentally prepared. Following the first incident, the question on everyone’s mind was whether or not my coworker “sneaked a peek.” He said no. To be precise, I believe he said, “Jesus, no, what’s wrong with you? No!” Leopards, of course, do not change their spots.

“So, did you get a better look at it this time?” I asked.

“No!”

“Come on, not even a glance?”

“No! Why would I do that? Jesus.”

“How could you not,” I said. “It’s like if I said don’t think of an elephant, but you can’t help it.”

Another male coworker piped up, “Yeah, or like the other saying, don’t look at a penis.”

“I didn’t,” he said. “Trust me, I can not look.”

“Not even peripherally?” another (female) coworker asked.

“It was like a black box obscuring everything but his head,” he responded. He claimed it was like a psychological trick, self-imposed blindness for the sake of preservation. “Trust me,” he said, “I didn’t want to look there.”

The Eyetracker begs to differ. I pointed out the study to my coworker: “When shown a photo of a guy at bat, women focused on his head and men focused on his head and his crotch.”

“Well yeah,” he said, “That’s the strike zone.”

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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31 Comments

  1. It's simple evolution: Does that guy have an endowment to snare away the healthy ladies and insure his reproduction, or can I let him live? How do I measure up to this millionaire? Do I have at least one physical advantage over this professional sportster? Do I have to keep relying on my sense of humor and my wit to get laid?

    And those who claim to never have snuck a peek in the showers or anywhere are either lying, driven by catholic guilt, or – in the spirit of friendly discussion – perfectly sane and normal people (albeit with a neurosis).

    I still remember a friend of mine telling me he had the biggest dick in our class, and when I laughed, he just looked at me seriously and said, "Trust me. I've checked them all."

    At least he went at it from a scientific angle…

  2. Speaking of penises and elephants, did you ever hear the one about the family at the zoo?

    As they walked past the elephant cage, the mother notices that the male elephant had a huge erection. She tried to hurry her young son past the scene before he noticed, but she didn't quite make it.

    "Daddy, what's that thing?" asked the little boy.

    "Ask your mother," said the father, mischievously.

    "What is it, mommy?" asked the little boy.

    "Oh, it's nothing," said the flustered mom, casting a withering glance at her husband.

    The father said, "Your mother's spoiled, son,"

  3. Nobody seems to be mentioning that the women also, apparently, checked out his bicep. It seems relevant, since many people consider physical strength attractive in men. Perhaps the women in the study were just focusing on sexual characteristics that aren't as obvious to men? Being male, I can only speculate :p

  4. "women will invariably focus on the head while men will focus on the . . . the other head. I don’t mean a glance or two — I mean a good, long, (longing?) gaze."

    Take another look, Rebecca. The men's gaze has a giant red blob over the head, and a smaller *yellow* blob around the crotch. So they spent much less time looking at the crotch than the head. I admit the gaze duration was longer than the woman's zero-time.

    I think it's weird that they didn't spend much time looking at the arms, legs, feet, or bat. I mean, isn't that what it's all about? I guess I'll never understand baseball.

  5. When I first saw the blobs and hadn't read any of the text (nor properly porcessed), I first thought this was "what areas of men women look at" and "what areas of women men look at", as I was reminded of a long-ago documentary I saw on the "social gaze" (which I can't find any references about). (It also pointed out that the first thing we notice about other people is their hair.)

  6. I agree that it's probably something that can't be helped but if your CEO came up and started talking to you, you'd sure as hell be trying not to get caught sneaking a peak probably by not actually peaking.

    BTW they should have included a picture of a woman in the study. Of course the guys side would have been completely covered but it would have been interesting to see the woman's side. Mind you woman never compare themselves with other woman, do they…

  7. ““How could you not,” I said.”

    Hell, I’m a guy and I agree. The result is either gonna be “oh, that’s why he’s a CEO” or “ha, at least I have that on Mr. Moneybags”.

    Staring at a man’s package while he plays sports though, that’s definitely a new one. I’m not entirely sure why or how that happens. Maybe they were checking out his…stance.

  8. Without a doubt, straight men look at other men’s genitals when they think they can get away with it. It is not a stare or even a glance, it is a flash (forgive the predictable pun) look followed by a mental comparison with one’s own equipment.

    Any male who says otherwise is either lying, or Ted Haggard in denial.

  9. Ahem, Liam.

    Here’s what The American Heritage Book of English Usage has to say:

    The past tense snuck is an American invention. It first appeared in the 19th century as a nonstandard regional variant of sneaked. But widespread use of snuck has become more common with every generation. It is now used by educated speakers in all regions. Formal written English is more conservative than other varieties, of course, and here snuck still meets with much resistance. Many writers and editors have a lingering unease about the form, particularly if they recall its nonstandard origins. In fact, in 1990 a review of our citations, exhibiting almost 10,000 instances of sneaked and snuck, indicated that sneaked was preferred by a factor of seven to two. And 67 percent of the Usage Panel disapproved of snuck in our 1988 survey. Nevertheless, an examination of recent sources shows that snuck is sneaking up on sneaked. Snuck is almost 20 percent more common in newspaper articles published in 1995 than it was in 1985.

  10. Rebecca: So snuck is like gotten, huh? I remember a teacher marking that one in an essay of mine, “It’s gotten to the point where…” That’s also AE, innit?

    And to get back on topic – since my last name is Pricken, in grad school, when I teamed up with a friend for a superhero team, my secret identity was “Superprick”. Curiously, the American exchange students seemed to find that funny.

  11. I'm curious…what other pictures did they use? There may well be something to the fact that the crotchal area is directly in the center of the photograph. It may be something that men do in terms of looking to the center of an image as a home position, but obviously that will only be the case if other pictures where there were no crotches in the middle have a similar secondary fixation about the center of the frame.

    I would also buy the 'strike zone' theory if it were a VIDEO and not a still photo. It's not as if any pitches are forthcoming in a still. But, when watching a live baseball game, I know that I have a tendency to look at players at about belt height, and also the catcher's face and glove.

    Which is not to say that men don't look at other men's junk. Cause we certainly do, and we certainly DON'T talk about it. It's the unspoken part of it that amuses me. Like when my fly is down, and another guy notices it. You don't say 'Oh, were you checking out my junk? Would you like to compare?' You say, 'Oh, thank you. How embarrassing!' and no one mentions it again.

  12. Thanks for the heads up, BF; that was one I always get wrong.

    No need to apologize; my dad is an English teacher. I'll never forget how he winced when I once used "lying" for "laying".

  13. Sorry,

    I've been in a many dozens of gyms.

    WE ALL LOOK. Anyone who says different is not being honest with himself.

    I'm here to tell you:

    Height doesn't matter, weight doesn't matter and race doesn't matter (I know some huge Asians, nuf said).

    Some say finger length matters, not so sure about that one, but it's possible, I suppose…never paid attention but it makes sense.

    However, what I"m sure of is this.

    Gay guys, they huge. Big, monster truck guys, they tiny (I mean like, DEFORMED!)

    Everyone else, you just never know. The dude could be huge or tiny.

    If he boxes well though, well, THAT'S good sign…

    I'm just sayin'…

    rod

  14. "Anecdotal evidence compiled from my female friends suggests that results might have been different is a picture of David Bowie from Labyrinth were used instead."

    FACT: That bulge had it's own acting credits.

  15. I’ll never forget how he winced when I once used “lying” for “laying”.

    That’s interesting. Most people make the opposite mistake.

    It also bugs me when people say “less” when they mean “fewer,” or “loan” when they mean “lend,” or use “he and I” as the object of a verb or preposition. One of the disadvantages of learning grammar and syntax is that it makes you really sensitive to errors. It’s hard to tell when it’s okay to correct someone, so I’m really glad you weren’t offended.

  16. That just means that women are not interested in learning about goat nads.

    Goat nads are important subjects of study.

    I can't help it if women care so little about science they will not instinctivly look at goat nads.

    GOAT NADS!

  17. Rebecca said:

    In regards to the veracity of the “strike zone” defense, I’ll just point out that this was a still image, and the results were the same when men and women were presented with photos of animals (not at bat).

    Wait…so dudes were checking out animals' packages? Were they all male animals? "Check out the unit on that dog!"

    I'd at least have expected that women would prefer looking at pictures of male chickens and men photos of a certain dam-building rodent.

  18. I can't help but notice his leg positioning to the arch in his

    swing.I also keep glancing at his planted stance in relation

    to the weight he's attempting to shift,and can't help but wonder,

    does his formula make a great lesson

    Since he's fully clothed I'm not embarrassed in analyzing,

    or perhaps even mimic,someones perfect form..I don't image

    them naked

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