Understanding cognitive and affective mechanisms in social psychology through eye-tracking

Susann Fiedler, Rima-Maria Rahal

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


Social psychological research is increasingly interested in the cognitive and affective processes underlying human behavior in social environments. To match this emerging interest, social psychology is embracing new methodological approaches. We identify eye-tracking as an unobtrusive, direct and fine-grained process tracing technique with promising implications for these new developments. In particular, eye-tracking helps researchers avoid relying on self-report measures alone and otherwise necessary interruptions of the processes they aim to observe and understand. In order to enable social psychologists to effectively use eye-tracking, we provide a systematic review of commonly used measures. Following an introduction of the basic principles and assumptions underlying the use of eye-tracking generally, we review eye-tracking measures addressing concepts of interest for many core theories of social psychology. Specifically, we introduce options to measure processing depth and decision effort, information weighting, search strategies, cognitive load and arousal. We showcase potential uses in exemplary research questions, providing a starting point for how to select appropriate measures and tailor designs to future applications of eye-tracking to social psychology. Further, we critically discuss the limitations and auxiliary assumptions on which the introduced measures are based. Finally, we illustrate the use of eye-tracking with examples from contemporary psychological research with relevance for social psychology, and conclude with an outlook for potential benefits of the use of eye-tracking methods in core topics of social psychology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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