Not-so private eyes: Eye movements hold clues to how we make decisions

New research led by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that eyes may really be the window to the soul — or, at least, how humans dart their eyes may reveal valuable information about how they make decisions.

The new findings offer researchers a rare opportunity in neuroscience: the chance to observe the inner workings of the human brain from the outside. Doctors could also potentially use the results to, one day, screen their patients for illnesses like depression or Parkinson’s Disease.

“Eye movements are incredibly interesting to study,” said Colin Korbisch, doctoral student in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering at CU Boulder and lead author of the study. “Unlike your arms or legs, the speed of eye movements is almost totally involuntary. It’s a much more direct measurement of these unconscious processes happening in your brain.”

He and his colleagues, including researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, published their findings in November in the journal Current Biology.

In the study, the team asked 22 human subjects to walk on a treadmill then choose between different settings displayed on a computer screen: a brief walk up a steep grade or a longer walk on flat ground.

Researchers discovered that the subjects’ eyes gave them away: Even before they made their choices, the treadmill users tended to move their eyes faster when they looked toward the options they ended up choosing. The more vigorously their eyes moved, the more they seemed to prefer their choice.

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