Research Output
Children’s gaze behaviour at real-world and simulated road crossings
  Children and older adults are overrepresented in pedestrian accidents (Department for Transport, 2010a, 2010b). Gaze behaviour is cited as a contributing factor in the majority of such accidents (Department for Transport, 2010a, 2010b); however, remarkably little is known about how children, adults and older adults control their gaze during either real or simulated road-crossing tasks. Because evidence suggests that behaviour in the laboratory may not accurately reflect that in more realistic situations (Dicks et al., 2010; ‘t Hart et al., 2009), this thesis used a real-world, active road-crossing task to compare, for the first time, how pedestrians across the lifespan direct their gaze during real road crossing. A total of 70 participants took part in the studies: 42 children (mean age 8.6 yrs, SD = 0.4); 14 young adults (mean age 24.1 yrs, SD = 4.5) and 14 older adults (mean age 70.7 yrs, SD = 4.1). In the first experiment, participants were escorted on a short walk while wearing a mobile eye tracker and asked to cross the roads along the way when they felt it was safe to do so. Gaze behaviour during the last 3 seconds before crossing the road at a signalised crossing was analysed. Both children and older adults directed their gaze significantly less often to traffic-relevant features (such as the road and vehicles) than young adults. However, their gaze patterns were very different. Older adults looked more at the ground ahead of them, which most likely reflects a functional adaptation to reduce the risk of tripping and falling as falls represent a serious risk in this population (Jensen, 1999). Children fixated traffic-irrelevant features more, which may indicate poorer attentional control or insufficient practice or experience. A serendipitous finding from this study was that the presence of a distractor (ice cream) acted to further draw attention away from the direction of oncoming vehicles in the sample of children. Based on these findings, a subsequent aim of the thesis was to explore whether two road-crossing training interventions (Crossroads and Safety Watch) would improve the amount of time children fixated traffic-relevant features of the environment: neither programme was found to have a significant impact on gaze behaviour compared to the control condition (no intervention). Another aim of the thesis that followed from the results of the first experiment was to further examine the attentional control of gaze behaviour in children. Two simulated road-crossings were purposely developed in the laboratory, allowing more controlled investigation of gaze behaviour at (simulated) signalised and unsignalised crossings, with and without a non-spatial secondary task (counting in threes). It was found that the addition of this secondary task affected children’s gaze behaviour in one of the simulation types but not the other. This demonstrated that cognitive processes are context dependent and not invariant across conditions. In light of the growing concern raised with respect to the use of artificial laboratory settings and tasks, the final aim of this thesis was to compare gaze behaviour of children under three display conditions: monitor simulation, projector simulation, and real-world; the results suggested that behaviour in the laboratory did not correspond with real-world behaviour. In real road-crossing situations, children looked significantly more often at the ground ahead of them (walkway) and at lights and signs than when performing in the “monitor” or “projector” simulations. These findings further emphasise the context-dependence of cognition and behaviour. This thesis contributes to the argument that a real-world setting provides rich and meaningful data and that, although the laboratory setting has certain methodological advantages, transfer of laboratory findings to the real-world context cannot be assumed. Similarly, road-crossing skills trained in a simulated setting (on a computer) do not appear to transfer to the real-world context. This thesis therefore advocates a real-world approach to the research and training of behaviour and underlying cognitive processes.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    14 June 2012

  • Publication Status:



Egan, C. D. Children’s gaze behaviour at real-world and simulated road crossings. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from



Pedestrian accidents; children; gaze behaviour; road-crossing skills; real-world research;

Monthly Views:

Available Documents