Division of Psychiatry

About the Eye Tracking Study

This research aims to identify eye movement patterns that may help diagnose major mental illnesses.

What is the Eye Tracking Study?

The study is a research project led by the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh and funded by the Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust for Saccade Diagnostics Limited. The Principal Investigators are Prof David St Clair and Dr Philip Benson (Aberdeen); the local Principal Investigator is Prof Andrew McIntosh (Edinburgh).

Improved diagnostic tests

The aim of the study is to identify eye movement patterns that may help with diagnosis of individuals with common major mental illnesses.

Unlike other branches of medicine there are currently no tests to help with the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and recurrent depression. Diagnosis is based solely on patient history, symptoms and observed behaviour.

This means that diagnoses can be unreliable and numerous patients are not getting access to the most effective and correct treatment.

How could studying eye movements help?

Although it has been known for some decades that individuals with specific mental disorders have abnormal eye movements these were not seen as clinically useful.

Recent work looking at people with a variety of psychiatric disorders suggests that a series of tests based on simple eye movement recordings made by a fast camera are very good at differentiating between some of the major adult psychiatric disorders.

Eye movements, amongst them ultra-rapid ‘saccades’ that occur many times per second, analysed using computer algorithms detected common patterns in different illnesses with exceptional accuracy of around 90%.

The algorithm was better able to distinguish psychiatric disorders than any blood, radiology or gene based tests that we were aware of.

What does the study involve?

Our study aims to recruit large numbers of individuals with most of the main forms of psychiatric disorders including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and recurrent depression, as well as healthy controls.

We aim to replicate our previous findings in these new individuals. If the results are positive, we plan to develop the technology to assist in diagnosis of major psychiatric disorders.

This has the potential to improve patient healthcare and wellbeing and will satisfy an enormous unmet need and reduce costs in NHS UK and worldwide.

The study has been approved by the North of Scotland Research Ethics Committee.

Find out more

Find out more about the study in this short video produced by the University of Aberdeen.

Next page: What does participation involve?