Gaze behavior during pedestrian interactions in a community environment: a real-world perspective

Exp Brain Res. 2021 Jul;239(7):2317-2330. doi: 10.1007/s00221-021-06145-1. Epub 2021 Jun 5.


Locomotor adaptations, as required for community walking, rely heavily on the sense of vision. Little is known, however, about gaze behavior during pedestrian interactions while ambulating in the community. Our objective was to characterize gaze behavior while walking in a community environment and interacting with pedestrians of different locations and directions. Twelve healthy young individuals were assessed as they walked in a shopping mall from a pre-set location to a goal located 20 m ahead. Eye movements were recorded with a binocular eye-tracker and temporal distance factors were assessed using wearable sensors from a full-body motion capture system. Participants exhibited more numerous and longer gaze episodes on pedestrians (GEP) that were walking in the same direction as themselves vs. those that were in the opposite direction. The relative durations of GEPs, however, showed no significant differences between pedestrians walking in the same vs. opposite direction. Longer durations of GEPs were also observed for centrally located pedestrians compared to those located on either side, but this was the case only for pedestrians that were walking in the same direction as participants. In addition, pedestrians in the centre, and even more so those on the right, were fixated at farther distances compared to those on the left. Results indicate that healthy young individuals modulate their gaze behavior as a function of the location and direction of pedestrians when ambulating in a community environment. The observed modulation is interpreted as being caused by an interplay between collision risk, pedestrian visibility, presence of leaders and social conventions (right-sided circulation). Present results also establish baseline measures for the quantification of defective visuomotor strategies in individuals with mobility disorders.

Keywords: Community ambulation; Gaze behavior; Locomotion; Obstacle avoidance; Pedestrian.

MeSH terms

  • Environment
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Pedestrians*
  • Walking