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What can eye-tracking tell us?
  1. James P Boardman,
  2. Sue Fletcher-Watson
  1. College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr James P Boardman, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Edinburgh, 47 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh EH16 4TJ, UK; james.boardman{at}

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A search of the term ‘eye-tracking’ in PubMed returns 3060 results that report its use in a diverse range of applications including studies of typical development, intellectual disability, pain, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), neurodegenerative diseases and use as a teaching aid in emergency medicine. This is because oculomotor orienting (gaze) behaviours are the primary control point for intake of visual information, so observing how they respond to different stimuli enables inference about cognitive processes such as attention, memory and processing speed. The capacity to observe gaze behaviour is strengthened by modern eye-tracking technologies that provide information about gaze derived from non-invasive recordings of subtle pupillary movements that are highly resolved in time (typically 60 Hz) and space (0.3°).

One of the major challenges of 21st century global child health is early identification of children who are developing atypically. This drive comes from parents, eager for diagnostic certainty and frustrated by the need to wait, often until school age, before problems are confirmed. The urgency to do more to identify risk factors in early life is reinforced by recent understanding that the preschool years offer a window of brain plasticity,1 when interventions designed to improve outcome may yield most benefit. Indeed, the principle of early detection for early intervention is a cornerstone of the Chief Medical Officer for England's strategy (Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2012. Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays). In addition, practitioners long for precision diagnosis because stratification of risk groups into diagnostic categories and subcategories could permit earlier and targeted intervention.

Eye-tracking is a …

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  • Contributors JPB drafted the editorial and SF-W provided important intellectual content. Both authors approved the final version.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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