Towards Empirical Enactivism: An Eye-tracking Study of Looking at Art While Feeling Aloud
Various researchers have presented evidence that verbalizing thoughts while looking at something affects viewing behaviour . This implies that eye-tracking and concurrent think-aloud (CTA) do not supply independent data points, because viewing and verbalization create a feedback-loop that affects both activities. While this exemplifies the tenets of enacted cognition, it is precisely to avoid this reactivity that cognitive psychologists and aesthetic researchers have often opted against using CTA so as not to distort their data . Both despite and because of this, hardly any research has been conducted on the exact nature of these interactions.
To fill this gap, an explorative experiment is proposed in which abstract art is presented to several subjects under different viewing conditions: a) silent viewing, b) viewing with unrelated verbalization task, c) viewing with CTA. The traditional CTA is adapted to a “feel-aloud” protocol with a focus on affective appraisal (in order to boost the contrast of stimulus-driven and introspection-driven verbalizations, and eye-movements). Abstract art was chosen as a stimulus set for ease of isolating basic visual features (i.e. colours, shape), maximizing explorative gaze, and reducing the effect of culturally engrained gaze patterns. Expected results for the CTA condition include more but shorter fixations on fewer regions of interest and more transitions between fixation clusters, indicating visual revisitations of details that are most salient in verbal references . Explorative analysis of latencies and links between fixations and verbal references in individual cases is also planned, drawing on aesthetic processing models, research on the role of language in perception, and affective appraisal in viewing art .
Far from being a mere methodological hurdle to be sidestepped in controlled experimental setups, reactivity between an attention metric (like eye-tracking data) and a meta-cognitive measure (like CTA) could give valuable insights into the dynamic interplay of lower-level stimulus-driven attention and higher-level cognition; and may well be a crucial step in the development of a method for the empirical investigation of enactivism.
 C. Klein et al., “Describing art – an interdisciplinary approach to the effects of speaking on gaze movements during the beholding of paintings,” PLoS ONE, vol. 9, no. 12, 2014. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102439
 K. A. Ericsson, “Valid and Non-Reactive Verbalization of Thoughts During Performance of Tasks. Towards a Solution to the Central Problems of Introspection as a Source of Scientific Data,” Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 10, no. 9–10, pp. 1–18, 2003.
 P. J. Silvia, “Emotional responses to art: From collation and arousal to cognition and emotion,” Review of General Psychology, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 342–357, 2005. doi:10.1037/1089-2618.104.22.1682