Seeing the Forrest through the trees: Oculomotor metrics are linked to heart rate

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Fluctuations in a person’s arousal accompany mental states such as drowsiness, mental effort, or motivation, and have a profound effect on task performance. Here, we investigated the link between two central instances affected by arousal levels, heart rate and eye movements. In contrast to heart rate, eye movements can be inferred remotely and unobtrusively, and there is evidence that oculomotor metrics (i.e., fixations and saccades) are indicators for aspects of arousal going hand in hand with changes in mental effort, motivation, or task type. Gaze data and heart rate of 14 participants during film viewing were used in Random Forest models, the results of which show that blink rate and duration, and the movement aspect of oculomotor metrics (i.e., velocities and amplitudes) link to heart rate–more so than the amount or duration of fixations and saccades. We discuss that eye movements are not only linked to heart rate, but they may both be similarly influenced by the common underlying arousal system. These findings provide new pathways for the remote measurement of arousal, and its link to psychophysiological features.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0272349
Pages (from-to)1-12
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2022


  • Blinking
  • Eye Movements
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Saccades
  • Task Performance and Analysis


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