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Visual Attention in Newspaper versus TV-Oriented News Websites

William J. Gibbs and Ronan S. Bernas

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 4, Issue 4, May 2009, pp. 147-165

Article Contents


Purpose of the Project

In this research, we tracked participantsí eye movements as they viewed newspaper and TV-oriented news homepages to investigate whether ocular behavior differed. We anticipated that measures of visual attention would differ by site type, with newspaper sites having greater numbers of fixations, longer fixation duration, higher gaze times, and lower saccade rates. We expected that overall visual attention on newspaper homepages would be more dispersed over the page and that there would be more scan path variation among users. We based these expectations on the following factors: (a) the likelihood of high text density on newspaper sites compared to TV-oriented sites; (b) layouts that reflect a newspaper orientation, with headlines dispersed throughout the page; (c) the way users read online, preferring to scan text rather then read thoroughly; and (d) the fact that reading is more difficult on a computer screen.

The research sought to answer three main questions: (a) Do measures of visual attention differ by the type of news site (newspaper and TV)? (b) What areas of news site homepages attract visual attention and do those areas differ by site type? and (c) Do scan paths vary as a function of site type? Among other things, answers to these questions can provide valuable insights regarding the types of news sites and site elements that support or impede visual attention, areas of the display that draw attention (salient features of display areas), and the extent to which users vary in how they attend to a display. For news sites, small variance may suggest, for example, an interface that affords efficient and consistent use.

Modeled after previous research (e.g., Brandt & Stark, 1997; Josephson & Holmes, 2002, 2008; Pan et al., 2004), we first examined the effect of news site type (newspaper and TV) on four metrics of ocular behavior, three of which were employed by Pan et al. (2004): (a) number of fixations overall; (b) fixation duration, the average eye fixation duration; (c) gaze time, the percent of time participants spent fixating instead of saccade time; and (d) saccade rate, the number of saccades per second. We then used the string-editing method and OMA to examine differences among scan paths including: (a) scan path variation within and across users and (b) percentages of participants who fixated in specific areas of the display. To the best of our knowledge, this is one of only a small number of studies that examined ocular behavior and news sites using these methods. A final aim of the study was to examine the utility of a string-edit approach and OMA in conjunction with eye-tracking data.

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