Comparing Online Webcam- and Laboratory-Based Eye-Tracking for the Assessment of Infants’ Audio-Visual Synchrony Perception

Researchers: Dr. Anna Banki and Dr. Gabriela Markova, University of Vienna

One of the most compelling topics in post-pandemic research is how online data compares to laboratory setting data, especially with eyetracking. These researchers set out to compare the settings using infant eyetracking and an audio-visual task. Check out their paper in Frontiers in Psychologyopen in new window and read on to hear their story!

Tell us about your research background and your field of study.

Anna Bánki: I am a doctoral student in developmental psychology. In my research, I am interested in infants’ attention and visual perception and how infants learn in social interactions. For my studies, I mostly apply neuroimaging and behavioral methods such as electroencephalography and eye-tacking.

Gabriela Markova: I am a postdoctoral researcher interested in early socio-cognitive development. In my current research I investigate infants’ perception of music and how music is integrated in social interactions with others. I use mostly behavioral and psychophysiological methods.

What motivated you to look into this area?

It is exciting to understand more about early social development: how babies perceive information, learn from others, and interact with their social environment can be informative for caregivers, educators, researchers, and clinicians. Now we have great tools and methodology in developmental science to uncover more and more about this.

What are you currently working on or have recently worked on that you'd like to discuss now with us?

We recently conducted an online study that assessed the feasibility of online eye-tracking with infants using Labvanced. We adapted an in-lab eye-tracking paradigm online that assessed infants’ audio-visual synchrony perception. Our aim was to compare the data quality of online webcam-based to in-lab eye-tracking to test the feasibility of online eye-tracking with infants – a method that has not been commonly applied in infancy research before.

Can you please describe the research design and how you set up the experiment?

Our participants were 4-6-month-old infants who either took part in the study in the lab or online. The procedure was identical in both settings and included two conditions: in the ‘simple’ condition, infants saw a baby who was bounced to a children's song, whereas in a ‘complex’ condition, a woman was dancing to a choir version of the same song. In each condition, two side-by-side videos of the baby or the dancer were shown at the same time: one video was in sync and the other one was out of sync with the music. We expected that infants will detect audio-visual asynchrony better in the simple compared to the complex condition, as it is socially more relevant to them. We recorded babies’ eye movements with eye-tracking and their gaze directions with video. In the lab, we used a commercial eye-tracking device and camera, whereas online we recorded the data with Labvanced eye-tracking that ran via the participants’ own webcam. We set up the experiment online using the Labvanced experiment platform and uploaded our own stimuli videos.

Tell us about your conclusion and the implications of that.

Our study showed that even though online eye-tracking has lower data quality than eye-tracking in the lab, with careful data quality control, online eye-tracking can be a promising tool for conducting preferential looking studies with infants online.

What are your next steps with this research?

We would like to collect more data online and in the lab with older age groups as we currently find that infants at the age of 4 months perceived asynchrony similarly both in the case of the simple and complex visual stimuli, thus asynchrony perception might get more finetuned in later months of the first year.

In what ways is conducting research online different from in-lab?

Online data collection can be more convenient for families with young children, as they can take part at a time suitable to them from the comfort of their home. With the help of precise instructions, caregivers can simply run the study and adjust to their baby’s needs during the task. Technical issues can still arise: thus, researchers need to provide remote support for participants. In-lab data collection may give more control to experimenters and allows for higher precision eye-tracking.

Do you see online research as the future of your field?

Online research opportunities have been greatly explored during the Covid-19 pandemic and hold real promise for developmental studies, especially with participants who may face challenges to get to the lab. The main question is whether online research can be made more accessible for participants by providing them with suitable devices, adequate technology, and by reaching more diverse samples. In our view, the field still has a long way to go to achieve this.

How did you choose Labvanced for your research?

Labvanced was a very suitable online experiment platform with an easy-to-use interface (without programming requirements), helpful customer service, reasonable pricing, and ideal data privacy and data storage options for researchers in the EU.

What stands out to you about Labvanced?

Labvanced provides a lot of tutorials and study templates that makes it really easy to design an online study from scratch. This was the only platform where eye-tracking was available so we could adapt our study. The eye-tracking algorithm has been constantly improved and features for developmental studies were introduced as well.

What would you recommend to students hoping to begin research in your field?

Developmental research is very collaborative and there are so many new avenues to take. We recommend trying out different methodologies and finding opportunities to learn from colleagues in one’s lab and in other labs. Conducting studies with babies and children can be challenging at times compared to other fields in psychology and neuroscience, but the field has its unique potentials and everyday research tasks can be fun and rewarding!

Do you have a message to share with other Labvanced users?

When possible, we suggest making your online study templates available, as it could be helpful for other researchers working on setting up a similar study. We experienced a very collaborative mindset among Labvanced users and that was really inspiring!