Page last updated at 21:01 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Viewers' eyes 'rarely left Obama'

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Viewers could not take their eyes off Barack Obama during the US presidential inauguration, researchers in Edinburgh have claimed.

The appeal of the new president was said to be shown in an Edinburgh University study which tracked the eye movements of those watching.

Despite potential distractions, such as the Obama family, the panel of viewers remained fixed on the president.

They only shifted their gaze twice during the inauguration.

The research focus group looked away from President Obama when Chief Justice Roberts fluffed his lines while administering the oath of office, and at the end, when President Obama looked to his family and most viewers followed him.

The really interesting thing here was how little people's eyes wandered
Prof John Henderson
Edinburgh University
Psychologists researching the effect of moving images on viewers said that where a person chooses to focus their eyes is a strong indicator of what they are thinking.

Professor John Henderson, who led the research, said: "We usually move our eyes around three or four times a second without being aware of it.

"The really interesting thing here was how little people's eyes wandered.

"Film directors and film editors spend a lot of time trying to direct our attention but in a video with no cuts and no editing it was amazing how people focused on Obama.

"It was such an historic moment and people probably wanted to see how he would react."

Face-to-face

Prof Henderson's research has also looked into how men and women watch moving images.

The study found that while both focus predominantly on faces, women apparently tend to look more at other women's shoes and jewellery.

The findings have wider practical implications, for example, whether video conferencing can command people's attention as efficiently as face-to-face meetings.

Another possible application of the research is in developing an automatic way of monitoring closed circuit television coverage.

The study was carried out on a group of 20 people, which researchers said was significant in terms of focussed psychological research.

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