Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Doctoral Training Programme

Using eye-tracking to investigate recognition memory


Lab rotation project description

You will run one or two experiments using eye-tracking hardware. Experiments will be programmed using a graphical user interface for Python and you will use [R] for data extraction and aspects of data analysis. We will meet regularly, along with other PhD students, to discuss your findings. Training will be given with a view to getting you fully autonomous with programming and data analysis.

The experiments will be based on current research activity that is aimed at characterising and examining associative-learning processes in recognition memory. This is of current theoretical significance and falls within the Molecules Cells and Organisms theme of the DTP.

Fact file

Research theme

Molecules, Cells and Organisms




LR1, LR2


2nd supervisor

BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Linked PhD Project Outline

We will use eye-tracking apparatus to examine people’s eye-gaze behaviour to visual stimuli that are presented on a specialised computer monitor. Moment-by-moment gaze is automatically recorded and, after experimentation, can be identified with coincidental experimental events (presentations of specific stimuli) to determine behaviour. Many visual stimuli (e.g., pictures of faces) are presented during an exposure learning stage and during subsequent testing, the original stimuli and many novel stimuli are presented side-by-side. Recognition is evaluated by biases in gazing toward novel stimuli relative to familiar stimuli.
The specific experimental hypotheses will depend upon what has been discovered at the point that you join. The general area is involved in using eye-tracking to run parallel versions of “object recognition” tasks used with rodents and to examine theoretical controversy concerning the mechanism (declarative memory versus associative memory) that governs recognition memory. The two classes of mechanism make different predictions about the effects of certain variations in the standard procedure. We will use this property to evaluate the merits of the two suggested mechanisms.  

Potential research plans include:
  1. Examination of optimal time intervals in ‘relative recency’ and ‘object-in-context’ learning. Relative recency involves the presentation of two objects to a rodent, one after the other (object A followed by object B). Both objects are presented in the test and rats will explore object A more than object B. The associative (but not the declarative) proposed mechanism predicts that test difference relies critically upon the time of presentation of object B. Work with rats has confirmed that prediction and it will be possible to adapt the task to humans with visual stimuli and an eye-tracking measure. If confirmed, the crucial influence of the timing of B in eye-tracking, would be important evidence in favour of the associative accounts.  
  2. Analysis of associative phenomena in ‘object-in-context’ learning. When rodents are presented with object A in a specific context (X) and object B in a different context (Y) they are found to explore object B more than object A when it is presented again in context X. A declarative memory account of this form of learning supposes that specific, integrated information about the object and its location is formed and, later, recalled. The associative account concurs but it holds that the integration is associative, rather than as a declarative, memory. The proposed mechanisms can be tested by examining for ‘blocking’, the finding that prior, associative learning can render new associative learning redundant. We can examine this prediction using an eye-tracking analogue of object-in-context learning and draw conclusions about the relative merits of the two proposed mechanisms.

5 recent publications related to project:

  1. Robinson, J., & Bonardi, C. (2015). An associative analysis of object memory. Behavioural Brain Research, 285, 1-9.
  2. Tam, S. K. E.; Bonardi, C.; Robinson, J. (2015). Relative recency influences object-in-context memory. Behavioural Brain Research, 281, 250-257
  3. Tam, S. K. E.; Robinson, J; Jennings, D. J.; Bonardi, C. (2014). Dissociations in the effect of delay on object recognition: Evidence for an associative model of recognition memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 40, 106-115. doi: 10.1037/xan0000003=
  4. Whitt. E. & Robinson, J.(2013). Improved Spontaneous Object Recognition Following Spaced Preexposure Trials: Evidence For An Associative Account Of Recognition Memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 39, 174-179.
  5. Whitt, E. J., Haselgrove, M., & Robinson, J. (2012). Indirect object recognition: Evidence for associative processes in recognition memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 38, 74-83.

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Doctoral Training Programme

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

Tel: +44 (0) 115 8466946