The roles of vision and eye movements in the control of activities of daily living

Perception. 1999;28(11):1311-28. doi: 10.1068/p2935.


The aim of this study was to determine the pattern of fixations during the performance of a well-learned task in a natural setting (making tea), and to classify the types of monitoring action that the eyes perform. We used a head-mounted eye-movement video camera, which provided a continuous view of the scene ahead, with a dot indicating foveal direction with an accuracy of about 1 deg. A second video camera recorded the subject's activities from across the room. The videos were linked and analysed frame by frame. Foveal direction was always close to the object being manipulated, and very few fixations were irrelevant to the task. The first object-related fixation typically led the first indication of manipulation by 0.56 s, and vision moved to the next object about 0.61 s before manipulation of the previous object was complete. Each object-related act that did not involve a waiting period lasted an average of 3.3 s and involved about 7 fixations. Roughly a third of all fixations on objects could be definitely identified with one of four monitoring functions: locating objects used later in the process, directing the hand or object in the hand to a new location, guiding the approach of one object to another (e.g. kettle and lid), and checking the state of some variable (e.g. water level). We conclude that although the actions of tea-making are 'automated' and proceed with little conscious involvement, the eyes closely monitor every step of the process. This type of unconscious attention must be a common phenomenon in everyday life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Adult
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Food Handling
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / physiology
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Videotape Recording
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*