Hidden Markov model analysis reveals the advantage of analytic eye movement patterns in face recognition across cultures

Tim CHUK, Kate CROOKES, William G. HAYWARD, Antoni B. CHAN, Janet H. HSIAO*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


It remains controversial whether culture modulates eye movement behavior in face recognition. Inconsistent results have been reported regarding whether cultural differences in eye movement patterns exist, whether these differences affect recognition performance, and whether participants use similar eye movement patterns when viewing faces from different ethnicities. These inconsistencies may be due to substantial individual differences in eye movement patterns within a cultural group. Here we addressed this issue by conducting individual-level eye movement data analysis using hidden Markov models (HMMs). Each individual's eye movements were modeled with an HMM. We clustered the individual HMMs according to their similarities and discovered three common patterns in both Asian and Caucasian participants: holistic (looking mostly at the face center), left-eye-biased analytic (looking mostly at the two individual eyes in addition to the face center with a slight bias to the left eye), and right-eye-based analytic (looking mostly at the right eye in addition to the face center). The frequency of participants adopting the three patterns did not differ significantly between Asians and Caucasians, suggesting little modulation from culture. Significantly more participants (75%) showed similar eye movement patterns when viewing own- and other-race faces than different patterns. Most importantly, participants with left-eye-biased analytic patterns performed significantly better than those using either holistic or right-eye-biased analytic patterns. These results suggest that active retrieval of facial feature information through an analytic eye movement pattern may be optimal for face recognition regardless of culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-117
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Janet Hsiao and Antoni B. Chan are grateful to the to J.H. Hsiao). Kate Crookes is grateful to the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong (Project number 17402814 to J.H. Hsiao and CityU 110513 to A.B. Chan) and HKU Seed Funding Programme for Basic Research (Project number 201311159131 Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders ( CE110001021 ). We thank the Editor and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • Eye movement
  • Face recognition
  • Hidden Markov model


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