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I understand that we typically view the center of the image first and then are likely to move on a horizontal axis, but is there evidence that we tend to follow a clockwise path when viewing more complex visual stimuli?

Alternatively, for individuals who speak languages that are read and written from right to left (Urdu, Hebrew, etc.), is there evidence that they tend toward a counterclockwise visual path?

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I don't have a paper to cite for you, but this is a commonly-taught principle in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) studies –  New Alexandria Jun 25 at 13:05

2 Answers 2

Abed, 1991 found cultural differences in visual scanning patterns that seem to reflect differences in the languages of the cultural groups.

  • Individuals from cultures with languages than may be read vertically as opposed to horizontally tended to have more vertical eye movements than individuals from cultures with horizontally-read languages.
  • Individuals from cultures with languages that are read right-to-left tended to show more right-to-left eye movements than individuals from cultures with languages that are read left-to-right.

Abed, F. (1991). Cultural influences on visual scanning patterns. Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, 22(4), 525-534. Link to article.

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There is a large body of work researching eye movements and what drives viewing patterns. I'll put in some citations later, but it depends on what you're looking at. Things like viewing perspective can modulate how many vertical/horizontal saccades (eye movements) you make. It can depend on the context of the picture, say a face. Here you'll scan the eyes and then up and down towards the mouth if you're American, whereas research shows some Asian cultures focus more heavily on the mouth. A lot of research goes into scanning of emotional scenes. One in particular showing that in the first few hundred milliseconds we do broad scanning of the image, but then focus on the salient elements, or the 'good parts'. And that patterns of cycling through those interesting features will loop over and over. Basically you want to get your bearings and then pay attention to what may be informative or relevant to you. Now there is some research showing cultural differences due to reading, although there is also evidence against that. A thing such as clockwise viewing seems unlikely. In certain situations though there my be a bias to viewing the top or bottom half of an image more, but this may be attributed to inter-individual differences.

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