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A study by the Centre for Cognitive Science at the Technical University (TU) of Darmstadt shows: People can unconsciously plan their eye movements several steps ahead. The study results are important for understanding the information processing of our brain. Professor Constantin Rothkopf and his team used artificial intelligence methods for the study.

No matter what we do, we plan the individual steps in such a way as to achieve our goal, even if we first have to deviate from our immediate plan. For example, if money is to be invested in a company, income has to be secured first. Or, if we are on our way to a destination, this can sometimes only be achieved by taking a detour.

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If future consequences of actions are included in decisions, artificial intelligence is referred to as planning. However, this requires a great deal of computing effort since many possible future developments must be taken into account. Of course, it would be easier not to plan and not take the consequences of the next actions into consideration. However, this can prevent us from reaching our goal.

Unconsciously planned

Researchers at the Centre for Cognitive Science at the TU Darmstadt have now discovered that planning also plays an important role for our eyes. An unconscious sequence of eye movements is planned. The researchers proved this in their study. They examined the eye movements, also known as saccades, on test persons. To do this, they were asked to recognize whether a limited screen area contained a black dot. The amount of time available for the task varied. The participants were able to capture the area with only one or two eye movements.

Result of the study

The study showed that if only one eye movement was possible, the subjects fixed their eyes on an endpoint. With just one glance, they achieved the greatest possible coverage of the area. However, as soon as two eye movements were possible, the subjects chose a different first step. It was less suitable for finding the black dot. With the second eye movement, however, the search result could be optimized.

Artificial Intelligence

The eye movements of the volunteers were compared with a model of artificial intelligence. It described a planned procedure. The test results were consistent with this. If, however, the investigations were compared with models frequently used in the field of visual perception, no agreement could be found. These models were based on unplanned eye movements.

Processing information

The researchers at TU Darmstadt have thus provided important proof of how information processing functions in the human visual system. It takes future results into account in order to solve tasks that require several steps. In other words, it plans. The result is relevant for understanding human eye movements. However, it also allows conclusions to be drawn about how information is processed in the brain during decision-making processes. If we consciously plan, for example, a trip or an investment strategy for a company, this often seems difficult to us. We run the risk of making mistakes. Our eyes, on the other hand, consciously plan almost optimally.