New research from the University of Rochester, New York, has found that microsaccades are responsible for improving vision.
A specialised eye scanner was used to record the foveolas of six participants directed to look at dots on a naturalistic noisefield background, simulating fleas jumping onto fur. The volunteers pressed a button on a joypad as soon as they saw ‘fleas’ jump.
The findings revealed that participants were unable to see the digital fleas immediately before and immediately after gaze shifts, even when they were apparently looking directly at them.
“We observed that microsaccades are accompanied by brief periods of visual suppression during which we are essentially blind,” said Janis Intoy, a vision scientist from the University of Rochester and the study’s colead author.
“Our results show that the very centre of gaze undergoes drastic and rapid modulations every time we redirect our gaze.
“This brief loss of vision likely occurs so that we do not see the image of the world shifting around whenever we move our eyes. By suppressing perception during saccades, our visual system is able to create a stable percept.”
The eye scanning revealed that vision recovered rapidly at the centre of the eye after these brief bursts of blindness, and then continued to improve – overall, vision in the eye was improved after the saccade or rapid movement of the eye. The research has been published in PNAS.