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Insight from YOUR sight


The Experiment

Our experiment sits in the "Who am I?" gallery at the London Science Museum. The question of who we are can be approached in many different ways. We can answer it in terms of the biology that makes up our bodies. We can answer it in terms of the way we develop from egg to adult. We can answer it in terms of the world we live in including our home, our family and our friends. In this experiment, we are attempting to answer it in terms of our personal preferences and the choices we make, which we like to think are as individual and unique as we are. This experiment looks at visual preferences, such as colour and shape in the form of cartoon dinosaurs, and exactly how unique our personal preferences really are, remains to be seen!


How it's done

We are from the psychology department at Royal Holloway, University of London. One of the most researched topics in psychology is the way we use our vision to make sense of the world we live in. You may not realise this, but when you make choices based on visual input, your eye-movements are revealing clues about the choice you are going to make. In this experiment, we track your eye-movements whilst you are looking at screens of cartoon dinosaurs. Using an innovative technology developed at Royal Holloway, and lots of very fast calculations, we use those eye-movements to learn about the dinosaurs you seem to prefer. We can then create some new dinosaurs which we think you will like even more. These new dinosaurs inherit features from the dinosaurs you preferred in the same you inherit features from your parents.


During the experiment we re-generate the dinosaurs ten times, meaning that the first dinosaurs you see are the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents of the last dinosaurs you see! Hopefully, each set of dinosaurs gets closer to your ideal dinosaur. The technology behind this experiment uses ideas from evolution, but what you see appearing on screen over a matter of minutes would take nature thousands of years to achieve!

The videos help to explain the way this experiment works:

"How to make a dinosaur" - How the dinosaurs are created.
"See-volution" - how we use your eye-movements to create dinosaurs we think you'll like more.
"Evolving dinosaurs" - shows you some dinosaurs evolving and gives you an idea of what the experiment looks like.

This technology was recently featured in CS4FN magazine. If you want to learn more about this technology, then you can read more about the research on my university web page here.


Why it's done this way

Now you're probably thinking "why don't you just ask people to tell you which dinosaur they prefer?" If so, that's a really good question! It turns out that people are not always that good at answering questions like "which is your favourite?", often because they try to guess "the right answer", when of course there isn't one!

More importantly, if I show you four dinosaurs and ask you to pick your favourite, all I really know is that you liked one of the dinosaurs I showed you more than the other three. I don't know you're order of preference for all four dinosaurs, and I don't know whether there are other dinosaurs that that you would like even more but that I haven't yet shown to you. The technology used here, which we call the Gaze Driven Evolutionary Algorithm, allows us to search huge numbers of dinosaurs for your favourite because your eye-movements provide a reliable answer to the question "list the four dinosaurs in order of preference" in a fraction of the time it would take you tell me the answer to that question.

Technology such as this provides a new way of communicating with computers, and potentially paves the way for games and creative tools which can learn to work with you based on the choices you make. In particular, such interfaces can provide increased accessibility to software for people who are unable to use common input devices such as the mouse, keyboard and games consoles. We were recently awarded a grant from the British Academy to investigate this further with the charity Special Effect. It is hoped that your participation in this experiment will contribute to the development of a prototype application enabling the physically disabled to create designs of their own using just their eyes.

If you have any questions or comments about the experiment please email

Who Are We?

Dr. Tim Holmes

Originally from Stoke-on-Trent (home to great pottery, Robbie Williams and Alton Towers!), I am one of those unusual researchers who has managed to spend as much in the "real world" as I have in the lab. As a Maths graduate, I worked in a variety of computing related jobs around the world but in 2006 I decided to return to university to pursue my interest in what makes us tick by studying Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London. My PhD was concerned with visual attention, and in particular with the eye-movements we make whilst making a preference based selection: in other words, "what do our eye-movements say about what we like?" This experiment at the Science Museum uses the technology I developed during that research, and will hopefully take us one step closer to answering that question. I grew up watching TV shows like "Tomorrow's World" (and more recently "Bang Goes the Theory") and am passionate about taking science out of the lab and onto the streets, as such I am incredibly excited about this Live Science project which will give me a chance to meet lots of people, talk to them about my research and test my ideas with a genuinely diverse range of participants. When I'm not working, you'll probably find me in the kitchen (I love to cook), watching a movie, riding a roller-coaster or out exploring the beautiful Chilterns which I am lucky enough to call home.

If you have any questions or comments about the experiment please email

Dr. Szonya Durant

I am a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway University of London where I spend my time teaching students and running experiments. I am interested in the part of the brain that puts together our visual world and I am trying to make the link between the tiny parts that make up the brain (called neurons) and what we see. Recently I have been looking at how well we can perceive our own direction of walking through different places such as offices and forests and what kind of brain activity this type of movement causes. I am also interested in our sense of time and our ability to know the position of objects and detect when they move. When I'm not locked in a dark lab or in the brain scanner I live the London life and spend my weekends exploring the treasures of this great city. I love it when the sun is out and will never refuse cake, which is why I also exercise quite a lot. I am originally from "up north" near Manchester, but that strange spelling of my first name is due to my being half Hungarian. The Live Science project brings together my love of the Science Museum, my belief in the importance of getting people involved with science and my enthusiasm to hang out with the rest of the team and our visitors.

Alice Lowenhoff

Hi I'm Alice and I've just completed my first year of a psychology degree at Royal Holloway, University of London, which has been absolutely fantastic. I'm already looking forward to exploring my subject further through our Psychology Society, who are organising a number of exciting trips and opportunities for us next year. I've really enjoyed meeting lots of new students from all over the world at University. University has also given me the chance to do some amazing non-work related things like going to a boat party on the Thames, attending a fantastic summer ball and taking a short break in Paris . . . not to mention, improving my ironing, washing and cooking skills! I've managed to supplement my finances by having a small job arranging nights out to and from London for students on my campus. This involved working closely with managers of clubs, coach companies, and organising large numbers of students, which at times isn't so easy! But, I've otherwise spent the majority of my time studying/attending lectures and socialising. I'm quite health conscious about eating good foods and like to exercise regularly through dancing and working out at the gym. Besides psychology and understanding what makes people tick, I love travelling, reading, drama and following fashion trends, which of course has to include shopping. I'm really excited about being part of the Live Science team and I hope that lots of people come and take part in our experiment at the Science Museum this summer.

Elina Nikolaidou

Hi everyone! My name is Elina, and I'm currently about to start my 3rd undergraduate year in Psychology at Royal Holloway. This course has proven to be an excellent choice, as I always find myself challenged and intrigued - I can honestly say that I cannot picture myself studying anything else. Royal Holloway has provided me with a course that gives a taste of all areas of psychology, helping me decide what we want to do in the future career-wise. Over the past two years, I have tried to identify which areas of psychology interest me the most, but I can't seem to narrow it down - every area is just as exciting as the next! Although my main focus at the moment is my degree, Royal Holloway has allowed me to have as much fun as any student could ever ask for, especially since I'm from Cyprus, and moving to the UK was a very big change for me. I've found myself settling in and enjoying every minute. I have been able to develop my love for sports by joining Women's Football, which has also given me a social boost, proving to be the perfect way to meet people. Being determined and focused, but at the same time a 'social enthusiast', I am definitely where I belong!

Hayley Thair

I'm the proud owner of a BSc Psychology Degree from Royal Holloway, University of London having just graduated this summer. I'm planning on completing a Masters course in Clinical Neuropsychology in Bangor next year. I love the idea of being a scientist and making a real difference in the world. I hope one day to either go into research looking at dementia or help rehabilitate patients that have suffered traumatic brain injury. I love spending time with close friends, and like most people my age I spend a great deal of time on the internet socialising. I also enjoy watching T.V. series and films, my favourite being "Greys Anatomy". I love space and everything to do with it, so enjoy reading up on any developments in the industry and news about the international space station. I also have an appreciation of history and love visiting ancient castles and houses like Hampton Court Palace. I consider myself a bit fearless and last year did a skydive raising money for charity for Capital FM. I was also part of the RAG society at university and helped organise fund raising days. Being in a period of change at the moment I've become rather existential about life, but can't wait for what's next. Being able to take part in this project is an excellent opportunity for me to experience psychological research in action, apply my skills and share my excitement for psychology with you.

Prof. Johannes Zanker

I started my academic career in an old university town in Germany some 30 years ago, reading various subjects, such as physics, philosophy, and most importantly biology. My desire was to understand how animals and humans move, behave, communicate, and think - which is one of the most ambitious and exciting challenges of the twenty first century, called Neuroscience. This wide range of interests and puzzling questions led me on a scientific journey through Germany, Italy, London, and Australia, where I have been working in biology research institutes, in a University Eye Hospital, and various computer science and robotics teams. In 2000 I settled down in the Psychology Department of Royal Holloway University of London, where I am currently head of department. I enjoy the combination of teaching and research because these two aspects of creating knowledge complement and enhance each other in many fantastic ways. One of the most rewarding experiences of academic work is supervising PhD students during their last few years of scientific training which allows them to explore, test and develop radical new ideas that can lead to important insights whilst perfecting the advanced tricks of the trade – in other words, being an academic. Tim's PhD is at the core of this Science Museum project and, was an amazing opportunity for both of us to learn a lot about natural and artificial evolution, human eye movements, cutting-edge programming techniques, and human choices for preference and beauty. The research has clear practical, and hopefully fun, applications as can be seen in the museum experiment. It is thrilling to be an active part in such an educational and entertaining project. When not thinking about work, or actually working, I spend as much time as possible with my large family, and enjoy gardening, riding my bicycle, reading and listening to early music.

Jade Jackson

My name is Jade and I am from Oxford but I spend the majority of my time in Egham where I study psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London. I have always been passionate about science. This may stem from my primary school days when science lessons included going out to the school field in search of bugs! My love of science was spurred on by reading Richard Dawkins' books and endlessly quoting from them to my friends. I think that the question of 'Who am I?' is one of the reasons I chose to study psychology in particular, and I believe that this question is interesting and relevant to everyone, and of course, like all interesting questions, it is one of the most difficult to answer. So, who am I? Well, if I was to describe myself then I would say that I love being around my friends and family and therefore, although the majority of my time at University is taken up by study, I take as many opportunities as possible to hang out at the coffee shop with my friends or go back home to see my family. My interests (apart from science) include quoting Richard Dawkins' books, drinking coffee, windsurfing when I can (I live in the wrong part of the country for it!), music, shopping and trying to figure out why my cooking doesn't taste like my Mum's!

Felix Zanker

Hello, my name is Felix. Working in the Psychology department at Royal Holloway has led me to this fantastic opportunity to work with Tim and the others on the "Insight from your sight" experiment at the Science museum. I grew up in Germany, Australia as well as England which meant a lot of changes throughout my life, different hobbies and interest, but my main interest that has not changed no matter where I lived has been Science, or more specifically - "How things work". From a young age I have always been most content to take things apart to see what makes them work, and then try to put them back together again, with the aim of understanding the "how and why" through observation and experimentation ("trial and error" I find works well in real life). Being a computer geek means my understanding of the brain is somewhat limited since my main scientific interest lies more in the direction of computer science, but I still try to understand what is going on "up there" and through conversations with Tim and other colleagues in the department I have picked up a thing or two about "Psychology"! When I am not being a geek, I can be found making a mess in the kitchen (or cooking as I like to call it), reading a book, having a cup of tea with friends, listening to music, mucking about with my nieces and nephew and taking my camera for a walk to explore new places.

YOUR Results

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Latest News

15/09/2011 – As we enter the final 2 weeks at the museum we have blasted through well over 1000 participants, making this one of the biggest eye-tracking studies ever conducted, so once more a big thanks to everyone who has taken the time to create a dinosaur for us. Now schools are back we've added a couple of weekend days to make it easier for families to get to the experiment, so here's our schedule for the last couple of weeks:

Thursday 15th September, 12:00-17:30
Saturday 17th September, 12:00-17:30

Tuesday 20th September, 12:00-17:30
Wednesday 21st September, 12:00-17:30
Thursday 22nd September, 12:00-17:30
Saturday 24th September, 12:00-17:30

Tuesday, 27th September, 12:00-17:30
Wednesday 28th September, 12:00-17:30 and again from 19:00-21:30 at the Science Museum "Lates"

We very much look forward to seeing you (seeing) at the museum!

05/09/2011 – With 940 visitors already, we are extremely excited that we will cross the 1000 mark this week! We will be at the museum at the following times and look forward to seeing you...

Tuesday 6th September, 12:00-18:00
Wednesday 7th September, 12:00-18:00
Thursday 8th September, 12:00-18:00
Sunday 11th September, 12:00-18:00

26/08/2011 – Just over half-way through the experiment, and 750+ of you from 43 countries have participated! More than 75% of you have checked out your dinosaurs online too, which is great! These are available via the YOUR RESULTS icon at the top of this page.
Next week we will be at the Science Museum on the following days and look forward to meeting you:

Tuesday 30th August, 12:00-18:00
Wednesday 31st August, 12:00-18:00 and again from 19:00-21:30 at the Science Museum "Lates"
Thursday 1st September, 12:00-18:00

The technology used at the museum was presented by Prof. Johannes Zanker at the European Conference on Eye-Movements, on Wednesday 24th at 12:10pm in Marseille and will be discussed further at the European Conference on Visual Perception in Toulouse, in the "Art and Vision" poster session on Thursday 1st September.

22/08/2011 – At the half-way point in the experiment, 650+ of you from 43 countries have participated! Thanks for all your great data and supportive comments!

This week we will be at the Science Museum on the following days and look forward to meeting you:

Tuesday 23rd August, 12:00-18:00
Wednesday 24th August, 12:00-18:00
Thursday 25th August, 12:00-18:00

The technology used at the musuem will be presented by Prof. Johannes Zanker at the European Conference on Eye-Movements, on Wednesday 24th at 12:10pm in Marseille and again at the European Conference on Visual Perception in Toulouse, in the "Art and Vision" poster session on Thursday 1st September.

Finally, you can catch Tim talking about eye-movements and using a different kind of eye-tracker in Episode 3 ("Leisure") of the Channel 4 series "The Secret Life of Buildings" - available from 4OD now: here

Countries we've had visit this week

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15/08/2011 – On Saturday we collected data from our 500th participant!

Remember, you can save your dinosaur to your computer by right clicking on it - feel free to print, post, share the image via our NEW Facebook Fan Page – simply follow this link to join in the fun Facebook .

This week we will be at the Science Museum on the following days and look forward to meeting you:

Wednesday 16th August, 12:00-18:00
Thursday 17th August, 12:00-18:00
Saturday 18th August, 12:00-18:00

Finally, Tim will be appearing in the Channel 4 series "The Secret Life of Buildings" with a very different kind of eye-tracking experiment on August 15th at 8pm – check it out!

08/08/2011 – After just 3 weeks at the Science Museum we've had more than 350 visitors from 35 different countries! (see our visitor map)

First of all a big apology to anyone who was impacted by our technical problems on Thursday, we have been working hard to ensure they don't happen again, but really appreciated your patience and understanding.

All dinosaurs generated at the museum are online – just click on the RESULTS icon above and enter your PIN number. Remember, you can save your dinosaur to your computer by right clicking on it - feel free to print, post, share the image! If you have any problems with the website, it might be worth updating your browser/plugins to the latest versions. Sorry, but the website is not compatible with Android/i-Phone – if you want your dinosaur in your pocket the best way is to save the image to your PC and transfer it to your phone!

This week we will be at the Science Museum on the following days and look forward to meeting you:

Tuesday 9th August , 12:00-18:00
Wednesday 10th August, 12:00-18:00
Thursday 11th August, 12:00-18:00
Saturday 13th August, 12:00-18:00

01/08/2011 – After just 2 weeks at the Science Museum we've already had more than 250 visitors from 27 different countries! (see map) All the dinosaurs generated at the museum are online now – just click on the results icon above and enter your PIN number. Remember, you can save your dinosaur to your computer by right clicking on it - feel free to print, post, share the image!

We will be at the Science Museum the following days/times this week, and look forward to meeting you:

Tuesday 2nd August , 12:00-18:00
Wednesday 3rd August, 12:00-18:00
Thursday 4th August, 12:00-18:00

25/07/2011 - Global Inisght! countried we've had visitors from so far ...

See above for the latest map

25/07/2011 – First of all, a BIG thanks to everyone who visited the experiment in our first week and helped to get off to such a great start! The dinosaurs you created are online now – click on the results icon above and enter your PIN number. You save your dinosaur to your computer by right clicking on it - feel free to print, post, share the image!

We will be at the Science Museum the following days/times this week:

Tuesday 26th July , 12:00-18:00
Wednesday 27th July, 12:00-18:00 and 19:00-21:30 ("Lates")
Thursday 28th July, 12:00-18:00
Sunday 31st July, 11:00-16:00

Hope to see you soon!

18/07/2011 – Today we "moved in" to the Live Science pod in the Who Am I? gallery, in the Wellcome Wing of the London Science Museum. Everything is set up for launch and we are looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible in the next 11 weeks. Our schedule for this week is...

Tuesday 19th July, 12:00-17:30
Wednesday 20th July, 12:00-17:30
Thursday 21st July, 12:00-17:30

01/07/2011 – We have been awarded British Academy grant (SG111199) which will allow us to evaluate this technology for use in assistive games and creative/learning software for people with disabilities. This work will be in collaboration with the charity Special Effect whose mission is to raise awareness about the need for accessible gaming/learning software/hardware and the positive impacts that such solutions can have for people with disabilities.