The maturation of eye movement behavior: Scene viewing characteristics in children and adults

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



While the close link between eye movements and visual attention has often been demonstrated, recently distinct attentional modes have been associated with specific eye movement patterns. The ambient mode-serving the localization of objects and dominating early scene inspection-is expressed by short fixations and large saccade amplitudes. The focal mode-associated with the identification of object details and dominating later stages of scene exploration-is indicated by longer fixations embedded in short saccades. The relationship between these processing modes and eye movement characteristics has so far only been examined in adults. While studies in children revealed a maturation of oculomotor behavior up to adolescence, developmental aspects of the processing modes are still unknown. Here we explored these mechanisms by comparing eye movements during the inspection of naturalistic scenes. Therefore, gaze behavior from adults and children in four different age groups (2, 4-6, 6-8, 8-10. years old) was examined. We found a general effect of age, revealing that with age fixation durations decrease and saccade amplitudes increase. However, in all age groups fixations were shorter and saccades were longer at the beginning of scene inspection but fixations became longer and saccades became shorter over time. While saliency influenced eye guidance in the two youngest groups over the full inspection period, for the older groups this influence was found only at the beginning of scene inspection. The results reveal indications for ambient and focal processing strategies for as early as 2 years of age.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-91
Number of pages9
Journal Vision research : an international journal for functional aspects of vision
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014

External IDs

PubMed 25152319
ORCID /0000-0002-6673-9591/work/142242375


ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • Ambient and focal processing, Eye-movements, Scene perception, Visual development