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Faculty Profile: Robert Alexander

In his research, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Counseling Robert Alexander, Ph.D., focuses on eye movements and the role they play not just in vision but also perception and cognition. Jun 3, 2024

“When I draw, I mostly draw eyes,” says Assistant Professor of Psychology and Counseling Robert Alexander, Ph.D. A visual artist in his spare time, it is not surprising that Alexander thinks of the human eye when approaching his artwork. His professional work has long focused on vision, eye tracking, and the advancements we can make when approaching eyesight from a different perspective.

“Many people don’t realize this, but eye movements are critical for vision,” Alexander says. If you never moved your eyes, everything would quickly fade from sight. Understanding precisely why we make those movements and how the neural circuits involved in eye movements, perception, and cognition are linked to each other might give us a better grasp of human psychology in general.”

This simple idea has led to an entire world of research and discovery with Alexander at the forefront. Much of his research is centered on increasing safety and reducing deaths resulting from “attentional or perceptual failures.” “I track the eye movements of working professionals such as radiologists or computer programmers to determine how their attentional targeting choices are made and how these choices change with perceptual learning and expertise,” he says. The resulting data can be used to improve training for these positions and to identify signs of fatigue, which can result in expensive and dangerous mistakes.

“When teaching, I sometimes mention recent news stories about human error and the problems it can cause, such as plane or automobile crashes, medical errors, and mistakes with infrastructure,” he explains. “Human error is a big problem, and if we can improve training and reduce those errors, we can save a lot of lives.”

Alexander also uses these tools and analyses to improve the diagnosis of visual impairments and clinical conditions to reduce disparities in healthcare access. “Racial and ethnic minorities are at high risk for many kinds of different ocular diseases that can lead to blindness and vision impairment. Vision loss is more common in women, people with lower incomes, and people with less education. In fact, disparities in visual impairments exist along nearly every dimension of diversity,” he says. “In many cases, even just reducing the costs of assessments could help reduce the disparities by lowering the barriers preventing access to vision care. By considering these issues while designing my studies, I take concrete steps toward improving health equity.”

Alexander serves as vice president for the Americas chapter of The International Society for Clinical Eye Tracking (ISCET), an organization created to provide a voice for existing clinicians working with eye trackers, as well as guidance for new clinicians seeking to enter the field. “Outside of teaching and research, I have been involved in promoting the use of eye tracking in education and in clinical settings,” he says. “My role as vice president for ISCET is part of that effort and is aligned with New York Tech’s status as a leader in the applications of technology that benefit the larger world.”

Learn more about Robert Alexander’s work and its practical applications.