Eye movements cannot explain vibration-induced visual motion and motion aftereffect

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Eye movements are thought to account for a number of visual motion illusions involving stationary objects presented against a featureless background or apparent motion of the whole visual field. We tested two different versions of the eye movement account: (a) the retinal slip explanation and (b) the nystagmus-suppression explanation, in particular their ability to account for visual motion experienced during vibration of the neck muscles, and for the visual motion aftereffect following vibration. We vibrated the neck (ventral sternocleidomastoid muscles, bilaterally, or right dorsal muscles) and measured eye movements in conjunction with perceived illusory displacement of an LED presented in complete darkness (N=10). To test the retinal-slip explanation, we compared the direction of slow eye movements to the direction of illusory motion of the visual target. To test the suppression explanation, we estimated the direction of suppressed slow-phase eye movements and compared it to the direction of illusory motion. Two main findings show that neither actual nor suppressed eye movements cause the illusory motion and motion aftereffect. Firstly, eye movements do not reverse direction when the illusory motion reverses after vibration stops. Secondly, there are large individual differences with regards to the direction of eye movements in observers who all experience a similar visual illusion. We conclude that, rather than eye movements, a more global spatial constancy mechanism that takes into account head movement is responsible for the illusion. The results also argue against the notion of a single central signal that determines both perceptual experience and oculomotor behaviour.

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