Saccades during visual search in macular degeneration

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publication: Vision Research, Volume 201 (2022)

Macular degeneration (MD) compromises both high-acuity vision and eye movements when the foveal regions of both eyes are affected. Individuals with MD adapt to central field loss by adopting a preferred retinal locus (PRL) for fixation. Here, we investigate how individuals with bilateral MD use eye movements to search for targets in a visual scene under realistic binocular viewing conditions. Five individuals with binocular scotomata, 3 individuals with monocular scotomata and 6 age-matched controls participated in our study. We first extensively mapped the binocular scotoma with an eyetracker, while fixation was carefully monitored (Vullings & Verghese, 2021). Participants then completed a visual search task where 0, 1, or 2 Gaussian blobs were distributed randomly across a natural scene. Participants were given 10 s to actively search the display and report the number of blobs. An analysis of saccade characteristics showed that individuals with binocular scotomata made more saccades in the direction of their scotoma than controls for the same directions. Saccades in the direction of the scotoma were typically of small amplitude, and did not fully uncover the region previously hidden by the scotoma. Rather than make more saccades to explore this hidden region, participants frequently made saccades back toward newly uncovered regions. Backward saccades likely serve a similar purpose to regressive saccades exhibited during reading in MD, by inspecting previously covered regions near the direction of gaze. Our analysis suggests that the higher prevalence of backward saccades in individuals with binocular scotomata might be related to the PRL being adjacent to the scotoma.

Related Centers, Labs, Projects