Eye movements can indicate if you zone out while reading, says a new study.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh recorded eye movements during reading and found that the eyes keep moving when the mind wanders, but they don’t move in the same way as they do when you are paying attention. In the study, when students were asked to read Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ on a screen, they were also asked to push a button marked “Z” when they noticed themselves “zoning out.” A computer tracked their eye movements and also asked every few minutes if they’d just been paying attention or zoning out.

In normal reading, the eye fixates on a word, and then zips to another word. It spends a longer time on words that are less common, but when someone’s mind was wandering, the eyes did not follow these patterns. They also fixated for longer on individual words. “It was almost like they were just mechanically plodding along,” Reichle said.

The study suggested that when people are reading, eye movements are strongly linked to the language-processing going on in the brain.

The study is published in Psychological Science.


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