Precision of speed discrimination and smooth pursuit eye movements

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Several studies have shown that the precision of smooth pursuit eye speed can match perceptual speed discrimination thresholds during the steady-state phase of pursuit [Kowler, E., & McKee, S. (1987). Sensitivity of smooth eye movement to small differences in target velocity. Vision Research, 27, 993-1015; Gegenfurtner, K., Xing, D., Scott, B., & Hawken, M. (2003). A comparison of pursuit eye movement and perceptual performance in speed discrimination. Journal of Vision, 3, 865-876]. Recently, Osborne et al. [Osborne, L. C., Lisberger, S. G., & Bialek, W. (2005). A sensory source for motor variation. Nature, 437, 412-416; Osborne, L. C., Hohl, S. S., Bialek, W., & Lisberger S. G. (2007). Time course of precision in smooth-pursuit eye movements of monkeys. Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 2987-2998] claimed that pursuit precision during the initiation phase of pursuit also matches the sensory variability, implying that there is no motor noise added during pursuit initiation. However, these results were derived from a comparison of monkey pursuit data to human perceptual data from the literature, which were obtained with different stimuli. To directly compare precision for perception and pursuit, we measured pursuit and perceptual variability in the same human observers using the same stimuli. Subjects had to pursue a Gaussian blob in a step-ramp paradigm and give speed judgments on the same or in different trials. Speed discrimination thresholds were determined for different presentation durations. The analysis of pursuit precision was performed for short intervals containing the initiation period only and also for longer intervals including steady-state pursuit. In agreement with published studies, we found that the Weber fractions for psychophysical speed discrimination were fairly constant for different presentation durations, even for the shortest presentation duration of 150 ms. Pursuit variability was 3-4 times as high for the analysis interval (300 ms) containing the open-loop phase only. For pursuit analysis intervals of 400-500 ms, pursuit variability approached perceptual variability. Our results show that, for the stimuli we used, the motor system contributes at least 50% to the total variability of smooth pursuit eye movements during the initiation phase. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.




Rasche, C., & Gegenfurtner, K. R. (2009). Precision of speed discrimination and smooth pursuit eye movements. Vision Research, 49(5), 514–523.

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