Francisco M Costela, Michael B McCamy, Mary Coffelt, Jorge Otero-Millan, Stephen L Macknik & Susana Martinez-Conde
Fixational eye movements (FEMs), including microsaccades, drift, and tremor, shift our eye position during ocular fixation, producing retinal motion that is thought to help visibility by counteracting neural adaptation to unchanging stimulation. Yet, how each FEM type influences this process is still debated. Recent studies found little to no relationship between microsaccades and visual perception of spatial frequencies (SF). However, these conclusions were based on coarse analyses that make it hard to appreciate the actual effects of microsaccades on target visibility as a function of SF. Thus, how microsaccades contribute to the visibility of stimuli of different SFs remains unclear. Here, we asked how the visibility of targets of various SFs changed over time, in relationship with concurrent microsaccade production. Participants continuously reported on changes in target visibility, allowing us to time-lock ongoing changes in microsaccade parameters to perceptual transitions in visibility. Microsaccades restored/increased the visibility of low SF targets more efficiently than that of high SF targets. Yet, microsaccade rates rose before periods of increased visibility, and dropped before periods of diminished visibility, for all the SFs tested, suggesting that microsaccades boosted target visibility across a wide range of SFs. Our data also indicate that visual stimuli fade/become harder to see less often in the presence of microsaccades. In addition, larger microsaccades restored/increased target visibility more effectively than smaller microsaccades. These combined results support the proposal that microsaccades enhance visibility across a broad variety of SFs.
Costela, McCamy, Coffelt, Otero-Millan, Macknik & Martinez-Conde (2017) Changes in visibility as a function of spatial frequency and microsaccade occurrence.. Eur J Neurosci. 2017 Feb;45(3):433-439.