How people extract visual information from complex scenes provides important information about cognitive processes. Eye tracking studies that have used naturalistic, rather than highly controlled experimental stimuli, reveal that variability in looking behavior is determined by bottom-up image properties such as intensity, color, and orientation, top-down factors such as task instructions and semantic information, and individual differences in genetics, cognitive function and social functioning. These differences are often revealed using areas of interest that are chosen by the experimenter or other human observers. In contrast, we adopted a data-driven approach by using machine learning (Support Vector Machine (SVM) and Deep Learning (DL)) to elucidate factors that contribute to age-related variability in gaze patterns. These models classified the infants by age with a high degree of accuracy, and identified meaningful features distinguishing the age groups. Our results demonstrate that machine learning is an effective tool for understanding how looking patterns vary according to age, providing insight into how toddlers allocate attention and how that changes with development. This sensitivity for detecting differences in exploratory gaze behavior in toddlers highlights the utility of machine learning for characterizing a variety of developmental capacities.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by a University of Minnesota Department of Computer Science and Engineering Start-up Fund to Q.Z. and an NIMH BRAINS award (R01 MH104324) to J.T.E. These funding agencies had no role in the conceptualization, design, data collection, analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of this manuscript.