Developmental Eye Tracking Study (DevTrack)

Ein Maedchen sitzt vor dem Eyetracker | A girl in front of an eye tracker

Reading is more than decoding single words. With the Developmental Eye Tracking Study (DevTrack) we aim to add depth to our understanding of children’s natural reading processes by tracking their eye movements as they read continuous texts.

The process of reading involves decoding words, extracting their meaning, as well as generating inferences to connect words, phrases, and sentences. During reading, adult eye movements generally consist of a series of jumps (saccades) of 7 to 9 characters and pauses (fixations) of 200 to 250 milliseconds. Information is processed only during fixation periods. The characteristics of eye movements are also subject to developmental changes, however, and the efficiency of eye movements during reading has been shown to be strongly related to the skill of the reader. Skilled adult readers generally make long saccades, fixate words for short durations, and skip over short, predictable words. Children typically show shorter saccade lengths and refixate the same word multiple times before moving on to the next word. In contrast to adults’ reading, words are not skipped and there are more saccades back to earlier parts of a text (regressions), which suggest rereading of passages that were not completely understood.

Two mechanisms are known to drive the efficiency and development of eye movements. Foveal reading processes are involved when a word is focused directly; parafoveal processes are relevant when information about letters and words to the right of the fovea is extracted. DevTrack will focus on the development of foveal and parafoveal processes in reading, using eye-tracking paradigms specifically developed to tap into these processes.

In the DevTrack project, we are investigating how foveal and parafoveal processes develop by following 100 children from grade 2 to grade 4. This will allow us to describe developmental changes in eye movement behavior over the first years of elementary school and their relation to other skills such as lexical access, phonological ability, and oculormotor efficiency. Moreover, we are interested in online reading comprehension processes as children begin to read longer texts in grade 3. We ask all children to answer post-reading comprehension questions in order to investigate the relationship between reading behavior and reading comprehension.

The DevTrack project is in its third year, which means that all participating children currently attend grade 4. The data acquisition period of our third test wave will be finished by summer 2016.


For questions or comments concerning DevTrack please contact

Sarah Eilers
eilers [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de