Dr Nicole Thomas studies where people look when viewing art.
Thomas uses eye tracking and other methods to investigate how we look–or as she puts it, “how do we decide what we pay attention to, and what we choose to ignore?” In a study published in Acta Psychologica, Thomas and coauthor Ali Simpson used an eye tracker made by the Sweden-based startup Tobii to understand how people look at abstract art–and how personality traits might influence how you see. Unlike specific kinds of art like portraits or landscapes, which our eyes might tend to view in specific ways, abstract paintings offer a kind of blank slate for observing how we see.
After evaluating their participants’ personality traits, Thomas showed them a series of abstract paintings sourced from Google Images, tracking their eye movements with Tobii’s 17-inch monitors. In general, people tended to focus their eyes on the upper-right-hand area of the art, and move in clockwise patterns to the rest of the painting.