Spotting expertise in the eyes: Billiards knowledge as revealed by gaze shifts in a dynamic visual prediction task

Sofia Crespi, Carlo Robino, Ottavia Silva, Claudio De'Sperati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In sports, as in other activities and knowledge domains, expertise is a highly valuable asset. We assessed whether expertise in billiards is associated with specific patterns of eye movements in a visual prediction task. Professional players and novices were presented a number of simplified billiard shots on a computer screen, previously filmed in a real set, with the last part of the ball trajectory occluded. They had to predict whether or not the ball would have hit the central skittle. Experts performed better than novices, in terms of both accuracy and response time. By analyzing eye movements, we found that during occlusion, experts rarely extrapolated with the gaze the occluded part of the ball trajectory-a behavior that was widely diffused in novices-even when the unseen path was long and with two bounces interposed. Rather, they looked selectively at specific diagnostic points on the cushions along the ball's visible trajectory, in accordance with a formal metrical system used by professional players to calculate the shot coordinates. Thus, the eye movements of expert observers contained a clear signature of billiard expertise and documented empirically a strategy upgrade in visual problem solving from dynamic, analog simulation in imagery to more efficient rule-based, conceptual knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Aiming sports
  • Billiards
  • Expertise
  • Eye movements
  • Knowledge
  • Mental imagery
  • Motion
  • Simulation
  • Trajectory extrapolation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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