The validation of online webcam-based eye-tracking: The replication of the cascade effect, the novelty preference, and the visual world paradigm

Behav Res Methods. 2023 Aug 30. doi: 10.3758/s13428-023-02221-2. Online ahead of print.


The many benefits of online research and the recent emergence of open-source eye-tracking libraries have sparked an interest in transferring time-consuming and expensive eye-tracking studies from the lab to the web. In the current study, we validate online webcam-based eye-tracking by conceptually replicating three robust eye-tracking studies (the cascade effect, n = 134, the novelty preference, n = 45, and the visual world paradigm, n = 32) online using the participant's webcam as eye-tracker with the WebGazer.js library. We successfully replicated all three effects, although the effect sizes of all three studies shrank by 20-27%. The visual world paradigm was conducted both online and in the lab, using the same participants and a standard laboratory eye-tracker. The results showed that replication per se could not fully account for the effect size shrinkage, but that the shrinkage was also due to the use of online webcam-based eye-tracking, which is noisier. In conclusion, we argue that eye-tracking studies with relatively large effects that do not require extremely high precision (e.g., studies with four or fewer large regions of interest) can be done online using the participant's webcam. We also make recommendations for how the quality of online webcam-based eye-tracking could be improved.

Keywords: Cascade effect; Novelty preference; Online studies; Visual world paradigm; Eye-tracking.