Measurement of the Visual Attention Patterns of People with Aphasia (summary)



People with aphasia who use image based AAC systems rely on their vision to find their way around devices. It is necessary to better understand how people who use augmentative and alternative communication (PWUAAC) visually interact with different images used to represent messages.

Visual scene displays are a relatively new type of image for message representation; images that represent a situation, place or experience, often including people or objects of interest. They were developed to reduce the challenges involved for some people in navigating grid-based AAC systems.

There has been little research into what makes an effective visual scene and, particularly, which elements of a scene attract and hold attention. It is important to know this to understand how best to create visual scenes for communication.

What did the authors do?

Eye-tracking technology was used to look at the visual attention patterns of people with aphasia to investigate whether they focussed on human figures in images rather than other elements. They also considered whether the person in the scene looking directly at the camera (camera engaged), or being involved in a task or with an object (task engaged), made a difference to the level of attention to the object.

Ten people with aphasia were each presented with 38 target photographs on a screen. Half of the photographs included a person looking directly at the camera, not engaging with any objects within the scene, in the other half the scenes were the same except that the human figure was engaged with an object, e.g. using a computer.

The gaze patterns of the participants were analysed.

What did they find?

In almost all cases the participants gaze fixed on the person in the scene, but there was a significant difference between the camera-engaged and task-engaged images with regard to how they fixated on the object of interest in the scene. The rate of fixation on the object was higher when the person in the scene was engaged with it, the length of time taken to fixate on the object was significantly shorter. The person in the photo held the attention for more time than the object in both situations, but the object of interest was fixated on more often when the figure in the scene was engaged with it.

The findings indicate that people who have aphasia respond in similar ways to people without disabilities when presented with scenes containing human figures.


The study presented the same photographs to each of the participants so the influence of personalisation of scenes cannot be known.

The participants were only having their gaze tracked and not attempting to communicate so no evidence is provided about the effect of communicative intent on attention patterns.


Though there is a need for further research into this area it seems that the use of human figures in visual scenes can be used to engage attention and so, could be used in visual scenes for communication to encourage engagement with particular areas of the picture and objects within this.

Things you may want to look into

Effect of two layouts on high technology AAC navigation and content location by people with aphasia

Speech and language therapy for aphasia following stroke

High-tech AAC and aphasia: Widening horizons?

Factsheet - What is Aphasia?

Added to site March 2015