Is human classification by experienced untrained observers a gold standard in fixation detection?

Ignace T.C. Hooge*, Diederick C Niehorster, Marcus Nyström, Richard Andersson, Roy S. Hessels

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Manual classification is still a common method to evaluate event detection algorithms. The procedure is often as follows: Two or three human coders and the algorithm classify a significant quantity of data. In the gold standard approach, deviations from the human classifications are considered to be due to mistakes of the algorithm. However, little is known about human classification in eye tracking. To what extent do the classifications from a larger group of human coders agree? Twelve experienced but untrained human coders classified fixations in 6 min of adult and infant eye-tracking data. When using the sample-based Cohen’s kappa, the classifications of the humans agreed near perfectly. However, we found substantial differences between the classifications when we examined fixation duration and number of fixations. We hypothesized that the human coders applied different (implicit) thresholds and selection rules. Indeed, when spatially close fixations were merged, most of the classification differences disappeared. On the basis of the nature of these intercoder differences, we concluded that fixation classification by experienced untrained human coders is not a gold standard. To bridge the gap between agreement measures (e.g., Cohen’s kappa) and eye movement parameters (fixation duration, number of fixations), we suggest the use of the event-based F1 score and two new measures: the relative timing offset (RTO) and the relative timing deviation (RTD).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1864-1881
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Early online date19 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Eye tracking
  • Fixation classification
  • Human coder


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