Relationship between Visual Attention and Flow Experience in a Serious Educational Game: An Eye Tracking Analysis




Cheng, Wai Ki Rebecca

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Game-based learning has become a topic of interest in education, especially within the science education community. Although some evidence supporting the effectiveness of digital games for science learning is emerging, the results overall have been largely inconclusive. In order to further advance research on game-based learning, the purpose of this study was to apply an interdisciplinary approach using the cognitive-affective integrated framework, the information-processing model of selective attention (Broadbent, 1958; Lachter et al., 2004), and the dual-process theories of cognition (Kahneman, 2011; Svahn, 2009), to construct a comprehensive view of the mental processes of visual attention during gameplay in relation to the positive affective state of Flow experience. This study utilized a mixed methods design, using a concurrent embedded strategy QUAN/qual (Creswell, 2008) to collect and analyze both quantitative and qualitative data. Thirty-one high-school students (N=31) in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, between ages 14 and 17, played the Serious Educational Game (SEG) called Neuromatrix. Self-report surveys and an eye tracking method were used to collect quantitative data for statistical analysis. A gaze duration sequence diagram (Raschke, Chen, & Ertl, 2012) was adopted for data visualization and qualitative scanpath analysis. Two Flow scales (FSS-2 and eGameFlow) were used to explore the differences in psychometric properties between the generic and context-specific Flow measures. The results showed a negative linear relationship between visual attention and Flow experience (p < .001). Three visual attention variables were identified and served as the indicators of Flow and perceived science learning in an SEG environment: (a) low fixation counts indicated students' focused attention and immersion in an SEG; (b) short total visit duration represented the efficiency of selective visual attention and may serve as an indicator of Flow experience during gameplay; and (c) total fixation duration illustrated the extent to which students looked at specific learning materials that could possibly pass through the selective filter into conscious attention and thus, lead to learning. The interplay between affective and cognitive processes during gameplay played a key role in students' deep engagement and had an impact on their positive science learning in an SEG. An interactive effect of total fixation duration and Flow on perceived science learning was found (p < .001, pn2 = .324), implying that a well-designed SEG that aligns gameplay and learning objectives may promote synergy between engagement and learning. Moreover, two individual differences factors, science interest and self-efficacy for computer use (p < .01) - that predicted Flow were identified by a stepwise regression analysis; these factors were shown to influence the attentional processes and cognitive processes of gameplay. The evidence of a positive relationship between science interest and Flow in an SEG may encourage teachers and parents to take an active role in instilling students' science interest in their early years, and to support students' ongoing development of science interest through exposure to various formal and informal learning contexts.



Science education, Cognitive psychology, Educational technology, Eye Tracking, Flow Experience, Scanpath Analysis, Science Learning, Serious Educational Game, Visual Attention