Ongoing eye movements constrain visual perception


Eye movements markedly change the pattern of retinal stimulation. To maintain stable vision, the brain possesses a variety of mechanisms that compensate for the retinal consequences of eye movements. However, eye movements may also be important for resolving the ambiguities often posed by visual inputs, because motor commands contain additional spatial information that is necessarily absent from retinal signals. To test this possibility, we used a perceptually ambiguous stimulus composed of four line segments, consistent with a shape whose vertices were occluded. In a passive condition, subjects fixated a spot while the shape translated along a certain trajectory. In several active conditions, the spot, occluder and shape translated such that when subjects tracked the spot, they experienced the same retinal stimulus as during fixation. We found that eye movements significantly promoted perceptual coherence compared to fixation. These results indicate that eye movement information constrains the perceptual interpretation of visual inputs.

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Figure 1: Stimulus and methods.
Figure 2: Comparison of retinal slips across eye movement conditions that we performed in this study.
Figure 3: Despite similar retinal stimulation, tracking promoted perceptual coherence over fixation.
Figure 4: Variant of our stimulus used to obtain an objective measure of perceptual coherence, and results using this measure.
Figure 5: Our effects did not depend on shape.
Figure 6: Investigating how eye movements influence coherence with moving objects.
Figure 7: Direction judgment, a measure of perceptual coherence, was highly dependent on eye movement direction.
Figure 8: Our effects in Figure 7 could not be explained by the mere presence of world-centered and/or retinal motion.


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Supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology and the US National Institutes of Health (grant EY12212).

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Correspondence to Ziad M Hafed or Richard J Krauzlis.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. 1

Exploring differential effects of eye movement direction relative to retinal motion direction. (PDF 221 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2

Subjective experience of coherence was highest for orthogonal tracking. (PDF 140 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 3

Exploring differential effects of eye movement direction relative to retinal motion direction with a different shape. (PDF 181 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 4

Subjective experience of coherence was highest for horizontal tracking with the diamond stimulus of Supplementary Figure 3. (PDF 106 kb)

Supplementary Note (PDF 150 kb)

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Hafed, Z., Krauzlis, R. Ongoing eye movements constrain visual perception. Nat Neurosci 9, 1449–1457 (2006).

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