Flashlight: Recording Information Acquisition Online

70 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2009 Last revised: 4 Aug 2015

See all articles by Michael Schulte-Mecklenbeck

Michael Schulte-Mecklenbeck

University of Bern; ETH Zürich

Ryan O. Murphy

University of Zurich - Department of Economics

Florian Hutzler

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: May 13, 2010


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 collects information in different areas of visual stimuli. Such real time data are of central importance in understanding psychological processes and can facilitate opening the black box of human cognition. 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.

Keywords: process tracing, online research, eye tracking, decision making

JEL Classification: C88

Suggested Citation

Schulte-Mecklenbeck, Michael and Murphy, Ryan O. and Hutzler, Florian, Flashlight: Recording Information Acquisition Online (May 13, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1433225 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1433225

Michael Schulte-Mecklenbeck (Contact Author)

University of Bern ( email )

Gesellschaftsstrasse 49
Bern, BERN 3001

ETH Zürich ( email )

Zürichbergstrasse 18
Zurich, 8092

Ryan O. Murphy

University of Zurich - Department of Economics ( email )


Florian Hutzler

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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