A flashlight enables a person to see part of the world in the dark. As a person directs a flashlight beam to certain places in the environment, it serves as a manifestation of their attention, interest and focus. In this paper we introduce Flashlight, an open-source (free) web-based software package that can be used to collect continuous and non-obtrusive measures of users’ information acquisition behavior. Flashlight offers a cost effective and rapid way to collect data on how long and how often a participant reviews information in different areas of visual stimuli. It provides the functionality of other open source process tracing tools, like MouselabWeb, and adds the capability to present any static visual stimulus. We report the results from three different types of stimuli presented with both the Flashlight tool and a traditional eye-tracker. We found no differences measuring simple outcome data (e.g., choices in gambles or performance on algebraic tasks) between the two methods. However, due to the nature of the more complicated information acquisition, task completion takes longer with Flashlight than with an eye-tracking system. Other differences and commonalities between the two recording methods are reported and discussed. Additionally we provide detailed instructions on the installation and setup of Flashlight, the construction of stimuli, and the analysis of collected data.
The connected paper is under review at Plos One and can be cited as follows: Schulte-Mecklenbeck, M., Murphy, R. O., & Hutzler, F. (2011). Flashlight–Recording information acquisition online. Computers in human behavior, 27(5), 1771-1782.