The effect of saccades on visual sensitivity and time perception

Mark Diamond

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Considerable evidence indicates that visual sensitivity is reduced during saccadic eye movement. A central question has been whether saccadic suppression results from a non-visual central signal, or whether the obligate image motion that accompanies saccades is itself sufficient to mask vision. In the first of a series of experiments described here, the visual and non-visual effects of saccades were distinguished by measuring contrast sensitivity to luminance modulated low spatial frequency gratings, at 17 cd·m¯² and 0.17 cd·m¯², in saccade conditions and in conditions in which saccade-like image motion was produced by the rotation of a mirror but when observers’ eyes were kept still. The time course of suppression was examined by making measurements from well before image motion began until well after it had ended. A tenfold decrease in contrast sensitivity was found for luminance-modulated gratings with saccades, but little suppression was found with simulated saccades. Adding high contrast noise to the visual display increased the magnitude and the duration of the suppression during simulated saccades but had little effect on suppression produced by real saccades. At lower luminance, suppression was found to be reduced, and its course shallower than at higher luminance. Simulated saccades produced shallower suppression over a longer time course at both higher and lower luminance. In a second experiment the time course of contrast sensitivity to chromatically modulated gratings, at 17 cd·m¯², was examined. No suppression was found; rather there was some evidence of an enhancement of sensitivity, both before and after saccades, relative to fixation conditions. Differences in the effects of real and simulated saccades in the magnitude and time course of sensitivity loss with luminance modulated gratings suggest that saccadic suppression has an extraretinal component that acts on the magnocellular system; the pattern of enhancement found in the later experiment suggests a selective favouring of the parvocellular system both immediately prior to and immediately after saccades. The possibility that the degree of enhancement in sensitivity varies across the visual field was examined using spatially localized stimuli (either high spatial frequency chromatically modulated gratings or letter combinations). Sensitivity was found to decrease at the initial fixation point during the 75 ms prior to saccadic onset and simultaneously to improve at the saccadic target. In the immediate post-saccadic period, sensitivity at the saccadic target was found to exceed that which had been manifest at the initial fixation point prior to saccades, suggesting that post-saccadic enhancement may improve the temporal contrast between one fixation and the next.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2002


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